Skip to main content

Full text of "Forget Foucault / Forget Baudrillard"

See other formats


FORGET 

FOUCAULT 






SEMIOTEXT(E) FOREIGN AGENTS SERIES 


Originally published in 1977 as Oublier Foucault , Edition Galilee, Paris. This 
translation first appeared as “Forgetting Foucault” in Humanities in Society , 
Volume 3, Number 1 and is reprinted by permission of the publisher. 

Copyright © 2007 Semiotext(e) 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a 
retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photo- 
copying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher. 

Published by Semiotext(e) 

2007 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 427, Los Angeles, CA 90057 
www.semiotexte.com 

“Forget Baudrillard” is translated by Phil Beitchman, Lee Hildreth, and 
Mark Polizzotti. 

Special thanks to Andrew Berardini, Christoph Cox, Jared Elms, Ronald 
Gottesman, Rahul Govind, Lewanne Jones, Christopher Mays, Nicholas Zurko 
and Joe Weiss. 

Cover Art by: Josephine Meckseper 

Untitled (Vitrine), 2005, Mixed media in display window, 1 16.8 x 1 16.8 x 47 cm 
Courtesy of the artist and Elizabeth Dee, New York 

Back Cover Photography: Marine Baudrillard 
Design: Hedi El Kholti 

ISBN-10: 1-58435-041-5 
ISBN-13: 978-1-58435-041-5 

Distributed by The MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, and London, England 
Printed in the United States of America 





Jean Baudrillard 


Introduction and Interview by Sylvere Lotringer 


Translated by Nicole Dufresne 


Contents 


Introduction: Exterminating Angel 7 

FORGET FOUCAULT 27 

POSTFACE: FORGET BAUDRILLARD 71 

An Interview with Sylvere Lotringer 



Sylv&re Lotringer 


Exterminating Angel 

Introduction to Forget Foucault 


IN DECEMBER 1976 Jean Baudrillard sent a long review-essay of 
Michel Foucaults The Will to Knowledge , recently published in 
Paris, 1 to the prestigious French journal Critique founded by 
Georges Bataille. (Foucault was on the editorial board.) Its title, 
“Forget Foucault,” left little doubt about the author’s intentions. It 
wasn’t just a critique of the book, but a pamphlet challenging his 
entire oeuvre. The essay was never published in Critique . It came 
out instead, separately, as a book a few months later. 

Forget Foucault , 2 to my mind, is by far the best introduction to 
Baudrillard’s work. I intended to publish it among the first three 
books of the new “Foreign Agents” series, which started in 1983, 
but the attack on Foucault made it a bit problematic. Taking on a 
fellow philosopher publicly, let alone a philosopher of Foucault’s 
stature, was something rare, and not only in France. Instead I 
published Baudrillard’s Simulations , which became a best-seller of 
sorts, especially in the art world. Foucault’s death one year later 
further delayed the publication of the pamphlet. It was finally 

1. Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1: The Will to Knowledge [HS], tr. Robert 
Hurley, New York, Pantheon, (French, 1976) 1980. 

2. Jean Baudrillard, Oublier Foucault , Paris, Galilee, 1 977. 


7 



released in English in 1987 with a double title: Forget Foucault/ 
Forget Baudrillard and a reversible cover, as if one cover could 
cancel the other out, making it less sacrilegious. “Forget Bau- 
drillard” was a long dialogue I had with Baudrillard in 1984, four 
years after we first met in Los Angeles and discussed the project. 
This series of mishaps and postponements both in France and in the 
United States, has a lot to do with the peculiar strategy Baudrillard 
inaugurated with this pamphlet. 

Baudrillard wrote it shortly after publishing Symbolic Exchange 
and Death* the most sweeping exposition of his main thesis until 
then. Few people realized how closely the two books were con- 
nected. Interestingly, Symbolic Exchange was released by Editions 
Gallimard in the same renowned series, Bibliotheque des Sciences 
humaines [Library of the Ffuman Sciences] as was Foucault’s The 
Order of Things} The two books, however, didn’t elicit a compara- 
ble reaction, or fire the same intense controversies. Actually 
Symbolic Exchange and Death attracted little attention in France 
and wouldn’t be published in English until 20 years later. By then 
Baudrillard had become famous in America for his deadpan, seem- 
ingly nihilistic views of consumer society. Not everyone recognized 
him as a powerful and idiosyncratic thinker. And while he is still 
known today for his paradoxical positions, or extravagant formula- 
tions, not everyone realizes that these formulations derive from an 
impeccable philosophical core, and that their glittering effects are 
based on solid scholarship. 

3. Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death [ SE], tr. Iain Hamilton Grant, 
London, Sage, (1976) 1993. 

4. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, tr. anon., New York, Pantheon, (1966) 
1970. 


8 / Forget Foucault 



Symbolic Exchange and Death wasn’t as easy to “place” intellec- 
tually as any of Foucault’s works. Although it addressed a number 
of issues current at the time, it didn’t look like anything else that 
was being published in France during that period. It didn’t seem to 
belong there, or anywhere for that matter. It was as if it had fallen 
from outer space. Even Baudrillard’s use of the word “symbolic” 
was confusing. It didn’t quite fit with the way Claude Levi-Strauss 
or Jacques Lacan were using it at the time. It didn’t help either that 
his dualistic (confrontational) approach to culture seemed to rein- 
state the kind of binarism post-Structuralist philosophers had been 
trying to eliminate. 

Until then Baudrillard was mostly known as a self-taught soci- 
ologist drawn to Situationist ideas, the author of several essays 
unraveling both the logic of consumer society {it exchanges signs, 
not goods) and the Marxist analysis that claimed to account for it 
(its use value was just a fiction of exchange value). In Consumer 
Society , 5 he demonstrated as well that ideological critique, any 
counter-discourse really, remained immanent to what it meant to 
oppose. In the last resort even the Situationists were complicit to 
the spectacle. (Their concrete attempts to offset its “alienating 
effect” through experiential drifts and detournements were cer- 
tainly more imaginative, but hardly conclusive.) Baudrillard 
wanted to achieve something more radical, on a much larger 
scale: not suspend momentarily the semiotic code — the principle 
of equivalence that regulated the flows of capital — but destroy it. 
Destroy, he said. “Only total revolution, theoretical and practical, 
can restore the symbolic in the demise of the sign and of value. 


5. Jean Baudrillard, Consumer Society , tr. George Rizer , London, Sage, Thousand 
Oaks, 1998. 


Introduction: Exterminating Angel /9 



Even signs must burn,” he proclaimed in For a Critique of the 
Political Economy of the Sign. 6 This was easier said than done. It 
was becoming doubtful at the time whether any class (let alone the 
famous working class) could ever achieve that feat. Forgetting rev- 
olution and “radical critique,” Baudrillard finally took the task 
into his own hands, challenging capitalism to provoke its own 
demise. It is still working on it. 


Sleeping with the Enemy 

This was a major shift in political theory. Actually, and contrary to 
all appearances, it wasn’t unlike what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guat- 
tari advocated in Anti-Oedipus , 7 or Michel Foucault in Discipline 
and Punish , 8 in the wake of May ’68. It wasn’t just coincidental that 
Guattari and Baudrillard at one point belonged to the same Maoist 
group; or that, in 1968, Baudrillard happened to be teaching with 
Flenri Lefebvre at the University of Nanterre, vortex of the uprising. 
All of them came from the same place politically: the far-left. Most 
French intellectuals at the time belonged there. There weren’t many 
other options available. Marxist rhetoric in politics had bottomed 
out. The student rebellion had proved at least one thing: the French 
Communist Party, trade-unions and the working class — the entire 
institutional left — had ceased to be revolutionary. The communist 


6. Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign , tr. Charles 
Levin, St. Louis, Mo, Telos Press, (1972) 1981. 

7. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus , tr. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, 
Helen Lane, New York, Viking (1972) 1977. 

8. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, tr. Alan Sheridan. New York, Pantheon 

(1975) 1977. 



bureaucracy hadn’t thrown its might on the side of the student 
revolt, Instead it pressed the besieged government for salary increases. 
When the Italian Communists later crucified the Autonomia Move- 
ment, falsely associating them with the terrorist red brigade, that 
was the end of creative leftism in Europe. 

No wonder French post-’68 thinkers, Baudrillard included, 
looked somewhere else for revolutionary alternatives. Failing to 
enlist their allies, they resolved to sleep with the enemy. It was a 
bold theoretical move, outdoing Marx in his analysis of capital. All 
of the “children of May,” revolutionaries bereft of a revolution, 
turned to capitalism, eager to extract its subversive energy they no 
longer found in traditional class struggles. Updating the theory of 
power and the fluctuations of subjectivity to the erratic shifts of the 
semiotic code, they assumed that they could redirect its flows and 
release in their wake new “deterritorialized” figures — psychotic cre- 
ativity, desire, nomadism, becoming revolutionary — in spite of the 
abrupt “reterritorializations” that the system was bound to impose 
in order to insure its own survival. (Deterritorializations result 
from the absolute decodification of capital). 

Baudrillard didn’t disagree with them on the nature of the 
beast, only on the extent of the damage. Contrary to them, he 
maintained that their willful distinctions between various “regimes 
of madness,” or between thresholds and gradients of intensity (nec- 
essary to identify the direction and consistency of the flows) could 
not hold anymore. Libidinal distinctions would prove powerless to 
stem the flow. Fie saw them as doomed attempts to reintroduce a 
modicum of human agency in a process that had become both irre- 
versible (linear, cumulative) and inhuman. Energetic and intense, 
capital was gradually gnawing away at every singularity. Simulating 
its fluidity, they had been engulfed by it. Revolution had come and 


Introduction: Exterminating Angel / 11 



gone; they arrived too late, one day after the orgy, like Kafka’s 
Messiah. Boldly going beyond Marx, they had simply lost their 
moorings. “Theoretical production, like material production,” 
Baudrillard wrote, “loses its determinacy and begins to turn around 
itself, slipping en abyme towards a reality that cannot be found. 
This is where we are today: indeterminacy, the era of floating 
theories , as much as floating money...” (SE, p. 44). All the efforts 
to enlist capitalism on their side were bound to fail. The only way 
out of the morass was a radical leap of faith, a flight into the 
unknown. Only an absolute deterritorialization of theory itself c ould 
meet the absolute challenge of capital. 

This is what Baudrillard meant by a total revolution: a strategy 
geared to escalate the system and push it to its breaking point. 
Then, giving up on every pretence of rationality, it would start 
revolving and achieve in the process a circularity of its own: “We 
know the potential of tautology when it reinforces the system’s 
claim to perfect sphericity (Ubu Roi’s belly)” (SE, p. 4). Coming 
back full circle to his early pataphysical roots, Baudrillard was 
taunting capital to emulate Jarry’s absurdism — and share in 
Ubu’s grotesque fate. After all, wasn’t capitalism itself a pata- 
physical proposition? It was endlessly cutting the branch on 
which it sits, devastating the planet and endangering the human 
species while claiming to improve its lot. Capital didn’t care a fig 
for the fate of humanity. The real wasn’t its business. It had can- 
celled the principle of reality and substituted a codification of a 
higher order, a hyper-reality that made the real obsolete. Its 
dirge-like flows were self-referential, leaving everything else in a 
state of self-induced simulation. The flows of capital were 
posthumous, post-human. In their nihilistic energy, they carried 
the seeds of their own destruction. Only Ubu, Jarry’s truculent 


1 2 / Forget Foucault 



hero, the coward king cannibalizing his own entourage, and 
himself in the process, could account for such a bullish cynicism. 
The society of the spectacle was turning into a soft version of the 
theater of cruelty, a burlesque of death with the globe as its stage. 
Life was being exchanged for nothing, for a handful of glittering 
toys, work absorbed time like a sponge and left no traces. Bau- 
drillard wasn’t the exterminator, but the system itself. Yet no one 
was paying attention. 

In his Bastille days, De Sade challenged French regicides to 
draw revolution out to its most extreme moral conclusions: “Fel- 
low compatriots, a last-ditch effort is required if you really want to 
earn the name of Republican!” Already spinning himself silly with 
the system like an autistic child, Baudrillard was ready to make the 
extra mile. Fie would be the fool of capital and wave its Good 
News all around like a lantern: “Every system that approaches per- 
fect operativity simultaneously approaches its downfall... it 
approaches absolute power and total absurdity; that is, immediate 
and probable subversion. A gentle push in the right place is 
enough to bring it crashing down” ( SE , p. 4). Beware of gentle 
pataphysicians with a big hammer. 


Excluding death 

By the time Baudrillard conceived this collapse, the general out- 
look of society had changed drastically. By the early 60s, workers 
were already becoming eager consumers. Surplus value no longer 
arose from hard labor; it was created through the commodity. 
Semiotic equivalence became more real than reality. As “commu- 
nication” replaced production, workers were being “alienated” not 


Introduction; Exterminating Angel / 13 



at work, but at home in their daily lives. Class struggle no longer 
applied. It was the beginning of the assembly-///?, social life colo- 
nized by the commodity. 

Baudrillard’s thought enjoys a special status in French theory, 
providing a bridge between the high modernist thinkers of the 
30s and 40s and post-structuralist thought, which sought to 
revise Marxian analysis in light of the increased abstraction of 
capitalism. 

While the Situationists sought to reclaim life through their 
detournements , Baudrillard turned to death as an ally. Re-reading 
Hegel through Nietzsche, he realized that debts always preceded 
exchange. A spared slave could never be free of the master’s gift of 
his life. Foucault said the same thing in conclusion to his Will to 
Knowledge , the book Baudrillard was ostensibly challenging. Fou- 
cault reminded his readers that, in ancient cultures, the right to kill 
was a dissymmetrical one. In reality, it was “the right to take life or 
let live.” And Baudrillard says: “Contrary to what we might imagine, 
power is never the power of putting someone to death, but exactly 
the opposite.” Power consists of “unilateral giving (of life in partic- 
ular)” (SE, pp. 40, 42). Foucault was talking about death’s absolute 
form during periods when the sovereign could exercise the right to 
kill in order to ensure his own survival. In modern times, this sym- 
bolic right subsisted but, Foucault estimated, only in a “relative 
and limited” form. The mechanisms of power had dramatically 
changed. Instead of destroying life, the mechanisms of power man- 
aged it in all sorts of ways. As a result, to “ let live” was substituted 
a power to ‘ foster life,” thereby disqualifying death and the rituals 
that accompanied it. 

“Now it is over life, through its unfolding,” Foucault wrote, 
“that power establishes its dominion; death is power’s limit, the 


1 4 / Forget Foucault 



moment that escapes it; death becomes the most secret aspect of 
existence, the most “private .” 9 While Foucault went onto explore 
what “to seize hold of life” really meant in terms of the administra- 
tion of bodies and lives, this point became pivotal in Baudrillard’s 
thinking. But could these disciplined bodies, these lives newly 
modulated by a creative bio-power, still be called lives? Foucault 
briefly envisaged the possibility of a “resistance,” but never elabo- 
rated on its possible nature or the conditions in which it could be 
exerted. One could argue that Foucault vindicated Baudrillard’s 
thesis by default. Only life pushed to the limit, to moments that 
escaped the system of equivalence, could render power powerless. 
Giving ones life away — a counter-gift — was the only present that 
couldn’t be reciprocated. 


Restoring the Potlatch 

French sociologist Marcel Mauss had rediscovered traces of this 
agonistic reciprocity in a radical custom — “potlatch” — practiced 
among tribes of the American Northwest . 10 Potlatch was the 
sumptuary sacrifice of accumulated wealth. Whoever was ready to 
sacrifice everything, even life itself carried the day. This organizing 
principle of primitive economies was “symbolic exchange” and, 
Baudrillard assumed, its ghost still was secretly haunting contem- 
porary society. Exchange was a rationalized version of this symbolic 
violence. “Giving back” could be a challenge to the capitalist system. 

9. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, op. cit, p. 138. 

10. Marcel Mauss, The Gift: the Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies , 
tr. W.D. Halls, New York, Norton, (1923), 1990. 


Introduction: Exterminating Angel / 15 



Could potlatch be reactivated against capitalistic forms of equiva- 
lence and death (hence life) be returned to the system? “Things 
must be pushed to the limit, where quite naturally they collapse 
and are inverted” (SB, p. 4). But was the saturation of the semi- 
otic code enough by itself to trigger symbolic exchange again? And 
where would this push come from? It would have to come from 
the system itself. Maybe symbolic exchange could offer the sys- 
tem something it couldn’t absorb without self-destructing. “An 
infinitesimal injection of death would immediately create such 
excess and ambivalence that the circulation of value and the prin- 
ciple of equivalence would completely collapse.” Death would act 
simultaneously in both directions. “Death must be played against 
death: a radical tautology that makes the system’s own logic the 
ultimate weapon” (SB, p. 4). Baudrillard’s concept of symbolic 
exchange was reversibility — a challenge to the death by means of 
death. But death as a form, a specific ritual and protocol, not a 
content. Only this form, perhaps, alone, could belong to a higher 
order than the code. 

Baudrillard was recasting symbolic exchange in light of Freud’s 
death drive, which involves both the system and its counter-finality. 
Freud conceived it as a myth that told something about the orga- 
nization of our culture. But the same, of course, would apply to 
Baudrillard’s system itself. Baudrillard’s concept of symbolic 
exchange could be seen as his own cultural myth, no truer a myth 
than Foucault’s discourse about truth. Symbolic exchange may be a 
hallucination of theory, the kind of elusive anthropological con- 
struct that is needed in order to upset the discourse of generalized 
equivalence. This does not make it any less true.’ Even though 
Antonin Artaud mythologized the Land of the Tarahumaras, his 
descriptions were anthropologically accurate. Ironically, Baudrillard’s 


1 6 / Forget Foucault 



hallucination of theory like Artauds myth of origin- occurs in a 
desert ... For Baudrillard, its an american desert — a desert in the 
midst of a land without origin or original. Baudrillard didn’t 
ground his theory anywhere, except on the very process of deterrito- 
rialization . On the principle of death itself. It is the form that his 
theory had to take in order to reverse signs and values, leaving 
nothing behind. “Strictly speaking, nothing remains for us to base 
anything on. All that remains for us to do is theoretical violence — 
speculation to the death, whose only method is the radicalization 
of hypotheses” (SE, p. 5). 


Speculating on Foucault 

But why speculate to death on the work of Foucault ? In Symbolic 
Exchange , Baudrillard was fiercely critical of Gilles Deleuze and 
Felix Guattari’s thesis on “desire” — he suspected its “savage natu- 
rality,” a substitute for “good old labor force.” — but he didn’t 
seem to see anything wrong with Foucault’s analyses. In fact, Bau- 
drillard begins Forget Foucault by praising him. He describes 
Foucault’s work as “perfect in that the very movement of the text 
gives an admirable account of what it proposes: on the one hand, 
a powerful generating spiral... on the other hand, an interstitial 
flowing of power.. .” But he immediately qualifies, this perfection 
is “disturbing... too beautiful to be true.” In short, “Foucault’s 
discourse is a mirror of the powers it describes ” [FF, p.10). 

Baudrillard s judgment is sharp and final: “floating theories” 
— and he included Deleuze and Guattari’s among them — now 
merely “serve as signs for one another... It merely signifies that 
any theory can from now on be exchanged against any other 


Introduction: Exterminating Angel / 17 



according to variable exchange rates, but without any longer 
being invested anywhere...” (SF, 44). Foucault’s thesis on sex was 
just a sign for Deleuze’s theory of “desire.” At one point Bau- 
drillard envisaged writing a book on “The Mirror of Desire” 
along the line of his The Mirror of Production, but never got 
around to actually writing. In Forget Foucault , this “mirror of 
desire” in Deleuze was assimilated to the interstitial flowing of 
power identified by Foucault. All that Baudrillard had to do was 
to negotiate the exchange rate between these two theories within 
his own pamphlet. 

As Foucault saw it, sex was a habit to which consciousness has 
not long been accustomed. It was essentially different from sexuality , 
which had long been a fluid configuration meant to adapt readily to 
various social pressures and historical situations. The sublimation 
of sexuality through courtly love served to shore up the medieval 
system of personal allegiance. By extracting from sexuality a series 
of regulated oppositions (sexual differences), Freud finally shaped 
‘sex’ as we conceive it today. 

In The Will to Knowledge , Foucault wondered to what extent 
the diffuse assemblage of sexuality had been taken over by sex. 
This question led him to dispel Freud and Wilhelm Reich’s 
“repressive hypothesis.” Instead of focusing on repression, Fou- 
cault observed the insistent injunction to express sex that was 
surfacing everywhere, demanding everyone to disclose it in its 
most minute details. Thus, while a social diffraction of power 
replaced transcendent power, sexual incitation was replacing old 
interdictions. For Baudrillard, the newly ambiguous status of sex 
placed it on the same “floating” basis as capital. Consequently, in 
his eyes, “liberating” sex could only mean exterminating it. 


1 8 / Forget Foucault 



Power and Desire 


Foucaults The Will to Power suffered a tepid reception in France 
and Gilles Deleuze wrote his friend a 1 0 page memo in support of 
his book. Yet he couldn’t help wondering in it whether Foucault 
wasn’t simply miniaturizing the state in his micro-political arrange- 
ments. “Is the notion of power still applicable at this level?” he 
asked. “Is it not also a miniaturization of a global concept?” And he 
added: “I am not sure that micro-arrangements can be described in 
terms of power.” 11 

And this is exactly the question Baudrillard raises in Forget 
Foucault — with a vengeance : “But what if Foucault spoke so well 
to us of power... only because power is dead? Not merely impos- 
sible to locate because of dissemination, but dissolved purely and 
simply in a manner that still escapes us...” (FF, p.12). Foucault’s 
new version of power hadn’t changed anything; the power princi- 
ple had remained the same. A masterful but obsolete theory, 
Baudrillard concluded. 

Suspicious of the word “desire” because of its Lacanian impli- 
cations (desire, a state dependent on lack), Foucault substituted the 
word “pleasure,” which he found less tainted, “a virgin territory, 
almost devoid of meaning.” 12 Baudrillard saw no real difference 
between the two, anymore than he saw a difference between 
“repression” of sex and the “induced mode of speaking” that Fou- 
cault claimed had replaced it. “Foucault doesn’t want to talk about 
repression: but what else is that slow, brutal infection of the mind 

11. Gilles Deleuze, “Desire and Pleasure,” More & Less 2, Pasadena, CA, Art 
Center College of Design 1998, p. 250. 

12. In “Le Gai Savoir II,” Mec Magazine 617 , July-August 1988, p. 32. Quoted by 
David Macey, The Lives of Michel Foucault, New York, Pantheon Books, 1993, p. 365. 


Introduction; Exterminating Angel / 19 



through sex, whose only equivalent in the past was the infection 
through the soul” (FF, p. 31). Here, Baudrillard seems to be giving 
Foucault lessons in Nietzscheism... 

Baudrillard was eventually ostracized for daring to take on 
Foucault, yet oddly, no one ever reproached Deleuze for raising 
many of the same questions. Worse still, Deleuze, otherwise 
known for his generosity, made it known around Paris that he saw 
Baudrillard as “the shame of the profession.” In my opinion, it was 
Baudrillard’s challenge to Foucault (and to himself) that Deleuze 
most objected to. Contrary to Baudrillard, Deleuze had criticized 
Foucault’s hypotheses in a friendly dialogue. But hadn’t Deleuze 
himself said that dialogues were useless, because either both peo- 
ple agreed, and in that case there was no point of dialoguing, or 
else they disagreed, and there was nothing to expect of an 
exchange of ideas? In an interview one year later, Foucault still 
defended pleasure as “an event ‘outside the subject’ or on the edge 
of the subject,” opposing Deleuze’s idea that pleasure would have 
to be ascribed to a subject. 13 

In his pamphlet, Baudrillard bridges this disagreement swiftly: 
“For us, the sexual has become strictly the actualization of a desire 
in a moment of pleasure — all the rest is ‘literature.’ What an extra- 
ordinary crystallization of the orgasmic function, which is itself the 
materialization of an energetic substance” (FF, pp. 24—25). As far 
as Baudrillard was concerned, the exchange rate between desire and 
pleasure remained pretty low. 

He didn’t leave it at that. Drawing a parallel between Foucault’s 
immanent conception of power and Deleuze’s notion of desire, 
Baudrillard raised the stakes further: “Such a coincidence is not 


13. In “Le Gai Savoir II,” op. cit p. 363. 


20 / Forget Foucault 



accidental: ids simply that m Foucault power takes the place of 
desire... That is why there is no desire in Foucault: its place is 
already taken... When power blends into desire and desire blends 
into power, let’s forget them both” ( FF , pp.17— 19). The exchange 
rate between the two theories now was approaching zero. Both 
thinkers found this unforgivable. 

But why did Baudrillard challenge Foucault instead of Deleuze? 
Until then, no one had dared to confront Foucault head-on. Fie was 
a formidable adversary. Like everyone else, Baudrillard had been fas- 
cinated by the power of Foucault’s writing. His initial eulogy wasn’t 
merely contrived. Fie in fact had embraced Foucault’s theories, 
beginning with his own genealogical approach to culture. The “gen- 
esis” of simulacra, the “three orders of value” that Baudrillard took 
pains to differentiate historically: the natural law of counterfeit, the 
market law of the industrial simulacrum and the structural law of 
simulation (the genetic code) eloquently registered this impact. 14 
This was a “gift” that he received from Foucault, and why he had to 
return it to him with a vengeance. This may sound illogical, or 
ungrateful, but such is the nature of the symbolic principle at work 
here. The logic of Mauss’ potlatch. Baudrillard’s gesture wasn’t a 
Freudian patricide. Fie had to purge himself of Foucault’s crippling 
influence. Baudrillard becoming another Foucauldian? Impossible. 
Fie valued Foucault’s work too much to become just another disci- 
ple. “To forget Foucault was to do him a service,” Baudrillard later 
explained. “To adulate him was to do him a disservice.” 15 David 

14. Jean Baudrillard, “The Orders of Simulacra,” in Simulations , tr. Paul Foss, 
Paul Patton and Philippe Beitchman, New York, Semiotext(e), pp. 83-159. Also 
Symbolic Exchange, pp. 81-159. 

15. David Macey, op. cit , p. 360. Quoted from Cool Memories , Paris, Galilee, 
1987, p. 198. 


introduction; Exterminating Angel / 21 



Macey, Foucaults biographer, described this comment as display- 
ing “a certain insight with extraordinary arrogance.” But Macey 
had missed the point. Baudrillard hadn’t “forgotten Foucault” to do 
him a service but to do himself a service. Although Baudrillard 
boldly challenged Foucault, he never persecuted him as his disci- 
ples were doing. Beware of disciples, Nietzsche warned. Once 
again, Baudrillard out-Nietzsched Foucault, even at Foucault's 
expense. What was at stake for Baudrillard was the integrity of his 
own argument. “For a time,” he admitted to me later, “I believed 
in Foucault’s genealogy, but the order of simulation is antinomi- 
cal to genealogy. . . If you take this logic to the extreme, what you 
get is the reabsorption of all genealogy. That’s why I believe Fou- 
cault was unable to make the leap .” 16 Simulation was the 
extermination of Foucault’s genealogy, the way Baudrillard 
absorbed all its traces, like the sons’ repast in Totem and Tabou. 


Reversing Foucault 

In Symbolic Exchange , Baudrillard was still in sync with Foucault. 
In Foucault’s work on madness, he saw a prefiguration of confine- 
ments to come: the confinement of children in “the idolized state 
of infancy,” of the old pushed to the fringes of normality, of the 
poor and under-developed reduced to a subnormal state, of per- 
verts ostracized, of women hystericized, etc., all forming “a folklore 
of terror... on the basis of an increasingly racist definition of the 
‘normal human.’” In the new culture of capital, to die was no longer 
normal. Going further, Baudrillard pointed out that “the cemetery 


16. Infra, “Forget Baudrillard,” pp. 73-74. 


22 / Forget Foucault 



no longer exists because modern cities have entirely taken over 
their function: they are ghost towns, cities of death. If the great 
operational metropolis is the final form of an entire culture, then, 
quite simply, ours is a culture of death” ( SE , 126-27). Baudrillard 
turned the metropolis itself into a necropolis, into an “accursed” 
space. But he didn’t challenge him for that, only returned Fou- 
cault’s analysis to Georges Bataille. 

Forget Foucault went one step further, actually completely 
reversed his theses. Baudrillard was fully aware of the impact his 
pamphlet would have on Foucault, and did not shy away from it. 
In order to dislodge his system from his own, all Baudrillard 
needed to do was to follow the spiral of Foucault’s thought, as he 
had done before, but dare him to go to this mysterious space Fou- 
cault was reluctant to be occupy. “What interests me,” Baudrillard 
said, “is the mysterious point where he stops and finds nothing 
more to say.” 17 

Paradoxically, Foucault himself had already showed him the 
way by praising Deleuze’s own reversal of Platonism. Deleuze was 
practicing philosophy, he said, “not as thought, but as theater ...” 
this kind of dramatization, Foucault continued, meant to “displace 
onself insidiously within it, to descend a notch, to descend to its 
smallest gestures.” 18 Baudrillard did the same thing, but in reverse. 
Fie escalated Foucault’s discourse up a notch, and to its biggest ges- 
tures — “into a wider spiral... the only true spiral, that of its own 
power” (FF, p. 38). Displacing himself within it , approving his 
adversary’s hypotheses without reservation, was a far more formi- 
dable challenge than simply criticizing him. 

17. Infra, “Forget Baudrillard,” p. 74. 

18. Michel Foucault, “Theatrum philosophicum,” in Aesthetics, Methods , and Epis- 
temology, Trans. Robert Hurley, New York, The New Press, 1998, p. 367. 


Introduction; Exterminating Angel / 23 



Baudrillard is always at his best when challenging an adver- 
sary. 19 Forget Foucault is a case in point. The essence of his method 
is polemical (from “polemos,” war). His goal was not to engage his 
adversary in a dialogue, but to create a non-dialectical space in 
which adversaries are locked in a close fight that requires an imme- 
diate response — or death. “Challenge alone is without an end since 
it is indefinitely reversible. It is this reversibility which gives it its 
prodigious force” ( FF \ p. 56). 

Following Marx, the Situationists often played the game of 
inverting words to bring out the ideology of any discourse. In this 
“insurrectional style,” Guy Debord wrote, “the philosophy of 
poverty became the poverty of philosophy.” Baudrillard’s style is far 
more “reversional” than insurrectional, he strives to bring a speech 
act to its absolute energy. There is no difference between discourse 
and the essence of war. Their aim is to destroy, not denounce, the 
adversary. The art of war consists of an ability to extract what is 
most important and decisive from a multitude of objects and cir- 
cumstances. In order to do this, the enemy’s center of gravity must 
be identified right away, the inner spring of its movement, and then 
pushed to the limit. At this culminating point, the system reverses. 

Reading Symbolic Exchange makes it easier to grasp what For- 
get Foucault was really trying to achieve. In his pamphlet, 
Baudrillard demonstrates how it is possible to fuse two disparate 
intellectual machines — Foucault’s strategic inversion of power 
and sexuality, and Baudrillard’s own symbolic reversion of the 
principle of equivalence. Radicalizing Foucault’s twin hypotheses 

19. Otherwise, he may lose some of his sharpness, as could be seen in “Radical 
Thought.” Cf. Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art, Trans. Ames Hodges, New 
York, Semiotext(e), 2005, pp. 162-1 77. 


24 / Forget Foucault 



was a way of disconnecting them both from their own ends so 
they would be instantly disintegrated. Vindicating all Foucaults 
hypotheses beyond his wildest dreams, Baudrillard made him 
more Foucaldian that he himself would have believed possible; a 
truly radical Foucault. 

Baudrillard dared Foucault to look back at himself from the 
perspective of death, as Baudrillard himself was doing. “Ex-termi- 
nation,” for Baudrillard, never was a term , any more than the 
extermination of history was the “end” of history. There was a rea- 
son for that: the term wasn’t where Baudrillard was going, but the 
place he was coming from, and had occupied all along. It was the 
place of death.™ No wonder that, challenged to join Baudrillard 
there, Foucault remained silent. 


20. In French, “la place du mort” (playing with a Dummy Hand). 


Introduction; Exterminating Angel / 25 




FORGET FOUCAULT 



Forget Foucault 


FOUCAULT’S WRITING is perfect in that the very movement of 
the text gives an admirable account of what it proposes: on one 
hand, a powerful generating spiral that is no longer a despotic 
architecture but a filiation en abyme , coil and strophe without 
origin (without catastrophe, either), unfolding ever more widely 
and rigorously; but on the other hand, an interstitial flowing of 
power that seeps through the whole porous network of the 
social, the mental, and of bodies, infinitesimally modulating the 
technologies of power (where the relations of power and seduction 
are inextricably entangled). All this reads directly in Foucault’s 
discourse (which is also a discourse of power). It flows, it invests 
and saturates the entire space it opens. The smallest qualifiers 
find their way into the slightest interstices of meaning; clauses 
and chapters wind into spirals; a magistral art of decentering 
allows the opening of new spaces (spaces of power and of dis- 
course) which are immediately covered up by the meticulous 
outpouring of Foucault’s writing. There’s no vacuum here, no 
phantasm, no backfiring, but a fluid objectivity, a nonlinear, 
orbital, and flawless writing. The meaning never exceeds what 
one says of it; no dizziness, yet it never floats in a text too big for 
it: no rhetoric either. 


29 



In short, Foucaults discourse is a mirror of the powers it 
describes. It is there that its strength and its seduction lie, and not 
at all in its “truth index,” which is only its leitmotiv: these proce- 
dures of truth are of no importance, for Foucaults discourse is no 
truer than any other. No, its strength and its seduction are in the 
analysis which unwinds the subtle meanderings of its object, 
describing it with a tactile and tactical exactness, where seduction 
feeds analytical force and where language itself gives birth to the 
operation of new powers. Such also is the operation of myth, 
right down to the symbolic effectiveness described by Levi- 
Strauss. Foucaults is not therefore a discourse of truth but a 
mythic discourse in the strong sense of the word, and I secretly 
believe that it has no illusions about the effect of truth it produces. 
That, by the way, is what is missing in those who follow in Fou- 
caults footsteps and pass right by this mythic arrangement to end 
up with the truth, nothing but the truth. 


THE VERY PERFECTION of this analytical chronicle of power is dis- 
turbing. Something tells us — but implicitly, as if seen in a reverse 
shot of this writing too beautiful to be true — that if it is possible 
at last to talk with such definitive understanding about power, sex- 
uality, the body, and discipline, even down to their most delicate 
metamorphoses, it is because at some point all this is here and now 
over with. And because Foucault can only draw such an admirable 
picture since he works at the confines of an area (maybe a “classi- 
cal age,” of which he would be the last great dinosaur) now in the 
process of collapsing entirely. Such a configuration lends itself to 
the most dazzling display of analysis just before its terms have 
been recalled. “When I speak of time, that’s because it’s already no 


30 / Forget Foucault 



longer there,” said Apollinaire. But if Foucault spoke so well of 
power to us — and let us not forget it, in real objective terms 
which cover manifold diffractions but nonetheless do not ques- 
tion the objective point of view one has about them, and of power 
which is pulverized but whose reality principle is nonetheless not 
questioned — only because power is dead? Not merely impossible 
to locate because of dissemination, but dissolved purely and simply 
in a manner that still escapes us, dissolved by reversal, cancella- 
tion, or made hyperreal through simulation (who knows?). 
Nonetheless, something happened to power which Foucault 
cannot retrieve once again from deep within his genealogy: for 
him the political has no end, but only metamorphoses from the 
“despotic” to the “disciplinary,” and at this level to the “micro- 
cellular” according to the same process belonging to the physical 
and biological sciences. This may constitute enormous progress 
over the imaginary order of power which dominates us — but 
nothing has changed concerning the axiom of power: it doesn’t 
exceed its shadow, i.e., the smallest definition of its real function. 
Power, then, is still turned toward a reality principle and a very 
strong truth principle; it is still oriented toward a possible coher- 
ence of politics and discourse (power no longer pertains to the 
despotic order of what is forbidden and of the law, but it still 
belongs to the objective order of the real). Foucault can thus 
describe to us the successive spirals of power, the last of which 
enables him to mark its most minute terminations, although 
power never ceases being the term, and the question of its exter- 
mination can never arise. 

And what if Foucault spoke to us so well of sexuality (at last 
an analytical discourse on sex — or a discourse freed from the 
pathos of sex — that has the textual clarity of discourses which 


Jean Baudrillard / 31 



precede the discovery of the unconscious and which do not need 
the “blackmail of the deep” to say what they have to say), what if 
he spoke so well of sexuality only because its form, this great pro- 
duction (that too) of our culture, was, like that of power, in the 
process of disappearing? Sex, like man, or like the category of the 
social, may only last for a while. And what if sex’s reality effect, 
which is at the horizon of the discourse on sexuality, also started to 
fade away radically, giving way to other simulacra and dragging 
down with it the great referents of desire, the body, and the uncon- 
scious — that whole recitative which is so powerful today? Foucault’s 
hypothesis itself suggests how mortal sex is sooner or later. While 
psychoanalysis seemingly inaugurates the millennium of sex and 
desire, it is perhaps what orchestrates it in full view before it disap- 
pears altogether. In a certain way, psychoanalysis puts an end to the 
unconscious and desire, just as Marxism put an end to the class 
struggle, because it hypostatizes them and buries them in their 
theoretical project. We have at this point reached the metalanguage 
of desire in a discourse on sex that has outreached itself by redou- 
bling the signs of sex so as to mask an indeterminacy and a 
profound disinvestment — the dominant catchword sexual is now 
equivalent to an inert sexual milieu. It is the same with sex as with 
politics: “Remember in ’68 how many strikes, barricades, speeches 
and cobblestones it took for people to begin to accept that every- 
thing is political. Pornography, as it proliferates and is censured only 
to come back stronger, will let them see that everything is sexuality” 
(Art Press, issue on pornography ] ). There is a double absurdity here 
(everything is political, everything is sexuality), a parallel absurdity 
in these two catchwords at the very moment when politics collapses 
and when sex itself becomes involuted and disappears as a strong 
referent in the hyperreality of “liberated” sexuality. 


32 / Forget Foucault 



If, as Foucault states, the bourgeoisie used sex and sexuality to 
give itself a glorious body and a prestigious truth in order to pass 
this on then to the rest of society under the guise of truth and 
banal destiny, it could just be that this simulacrum slips out of its 
skin and departs with it. Because he remains within the classic 
formula of sex, Foucault cannot trace this new spiral of sexual 
simulation in which sex finds a second existence and takes on the 
fascination of a lost frame of reference* (and this is nothing but 
the coherence lent by a given configuration to the myth of the 
unconscious). Even if he fashions sex into a discursive configura- 
tion, this has its own internal coherence and, just like power, it has 
a positive index of refraction. Discourse is discourse, but the oper- 
ations, strategies, and schemes played out there are real: the 
hysterical woman, the perverse adult, the masturbating child, the 
oedipal family. These real, historical devices, machines that have 
never been tampered with — no more so than the “desiring 
machines” in their order of libidinal energy — all exist, and the 
truth is: they have been true . But Foucault cannot tell us anything 
about the simulating machines that double each one of these 
“original” machines, about the great simulating mechanism which 
winds all these devices into a wider spiral, because Foucault s gaze 
is fixed upon the classic “semiurgy” of power and sex. He does not 
see the frenzied semiurgy that has taken hold of the simulacrum. 
Maybe this spiral that erases all others is only a new aspect of desire 
or power, but this is very unlikely because it breaks down all dis- 
course into these terms. Barthes said of Japan: “There, sexuality is 
■ ■ \ 

* It may well be that pornography is there only to reactivate this lost referent in 
order to prove a contrario , by its grotesque hyperrealism, that there is however 
some real sex somewhere. 


Jean Baucfriiiard / 33 



in sex and nowhere else. In the United States, sexuality is every 
where except in sex .” 2 And what if sex itself is no longer in sex? We 
are no doubt witnessing, with sexual liberation, pornography, etc., 
the agony of sexual reason. And Foucault will only have given us the 
key to it when it no longer means anything. The same goes for 
Discipline and Punish , with its theory of discipline, of the “panop- 
tic” and of “transparence.” A magistral but obsolete theory. Such a 
theory of control by means of a gaze that objectifies, even when it is 
pulverized into micro-devices, is passe. With the simulation device 
we are no doubt as far from the strategy of transparence as the latter 
is from the immediate, symbolic operation of punishment which 
Foucault himself describes. Once again a spiral is missing here, the 
spiral in front of which Foucault, oddly enough, comes to a halt 
right at the threshold of a current revolution of the system which he 
has never wanted to cross. 


ONE COULD SAY a lot about the central thesis of the book: there 
has never been a repression of sex but on the contrary an injunc- 
tion against talking about it or voicing it and a compulsion to 
confess, to express, and to produce sex. Repression is only a trap 
and an alibi to hide assigning an entire culture to the sexual imper- 
ative. Supposing we agree with Foucault (note, however, that this 
assignation need in no way envy good old repression — and what 
difference does it make whether we say repression or an “induced” 
mode of speaking? Its only a question of terminology), what 
would remain of the book’s essential idea? Basically this: it substi- 
tutes a negative, reactive, and transcendental conception of power 
which is founded on interdiction and law for a positive, active, 
and immanent conception, and this is in fact essential. One can 


34 / Forget Foucault 



only be struck by the coincidence between this new version of 
power and the new version of desire proposed by Deleuze and 
Lyotard: but there, instead of a lack or interdiction, one finds the 
deployment and the positive dissemination of flows and intensi- 
ties. Such a coincidence is not accidental: it’s simply that in 
Foucault power rakes the place of desire. It is there in the same way 
as desire in Deleuze and Lyotard: always already there, purged of 
all negativity, a network, a rhizome, a contiguity diffracted ad 
infinitum. That is why there is no desire in Foucault: its place is 
already taken (looking at it the other way round, one way wonder 
if, in the schizoid and libidinal theories, desire or anything along 
that line is not the anamorphosis of a certain kind of power 
remaining under the sign of the same immanence, the same posi- 
tivity, and the same machinery going every which way. Better yet, 
one can even wonder if, from one theory to the other, desire and 
power don’t exchange their figure in ceaseless speculation — in 
mirror games that are for us games of truth). 

These are certainly twin theories to their core; they are syn- 
chronous and isochronous in their “device” ( dispositif: a term 
dear to them), and their facilitation (frayage: Bahnung) is the 
same — this is why they can be interchanged so well (see Deleuze’s 
article on Foucault in Critique 3 ) and can generate as of today all 
the by-products (“enjoyment of power,” “the desire for capital,” 
etc.) which are exact replicas of the previous generation’s by- 
products “the desire of revolution,” “enjoyment of non-power,” 
etc.). For in those days Reichians & Freudo-Marxists and desire 
& power were under opposite signs; today micro-desire (that of 
power) and micro-politics (that of desire) literally merge at the 
libido’s mechanical confines: all one has to do is miniaturize. 
Such is the spiral Foucault suggests: power/ knowledge/pleasure 


Jean Baudriliard / 35 



(he dare not say desire , although it is desire, the whole theory of 
desire, which comes directly into question). Foucault is part of 
this molecular intertwining which sketches out all of the future’s 
visible hysteria: he has helped establish a systematic notion of 
power along the same operational lines as desire, just as Deleuze 
established a notion of desire along the lines of future forms of 
power. This collusion is too beautiful not to arouse suspicion, but 
it has in its behalf the quaint innocence of a betrothal. When 
power blends into desire and desire blends into power, let’s forget 
them both . 4 

As for the hypothesis concerning repression, it’s fine to object 
to it radically, but not on the basis of a simplistic definition. Yet 
what Foucault rejects is just such a repression of sex intended to 
channel all forms of energy toward material production. On this 
basis, it is too easy to say that the proletariat should have been the 
first class affected by repression, while history shows that the 
privileged classes first experienced it. In conclusion, the hypothe- 
sis concerning repression doesn’t hold up. But it is the other 
hypothesis which is interesting: the hypothesis concerning a 
repression that originates from much farther away than the hori- 
zon of manufacturing and that simultaneously includes the whole 
horizon of sexuality. Whether we discuss the liberation of produc- 
tive forces, of energies, or of speaking about sex, it is the same 
struggle and the same advancement toward an ever more powerful 
and differentiated socialization. One might as well say that repres- 
sion in the maximal hypothesis, is never repression of sex for the 
benefits of who knows what, but repression through sex (a grid 
of discourses, bodies, energies, and institutions imposed through 
sex, in the name of “the talking sex”). And sex which has been 
repressed only hides that repression by means of sex. 


36 / Forget Foucault 



The production channel leads from work to sex, but only by 
switching tracks; as we move from political to “libidinal” economy 
(the last acquisition of ’68), we change from a violent and archaic 
model of socialization (work) to a more subtle and fluid model 
which is at once more “psychic” and more in touch with the body 
(the sexual and the libidinal). There is a metamorphosis and a 
veering away from labor power to drive ( pulsion ), a veering away 
from a model founded on a system of representations (the famous 
“ideology”) to a model operating on a system of affect (sex being 
only a kind of anamorphosis of the categorical social imperative). 
From one discourse to the other — since it really is a question of 
discourse — there runs the same ultimatum of pro-duction in the 
literal sense of the word. The original sense of “production” is not 
in fact that of material manufacture; rather, it means to render 
visible, to cause to appear and be made to appear: pro-ducerc. Sex 
is produced as one produces a document, or as an actor is said to 
appear (sc produire) on stage. To produce is to force what belongs 
to another order (that of secrecy and seduction) to materialize. 
Seduction is that which is everywhere and always opposed to pro- 
duction ; seduction withdraws something from the visible order 
and so runs counter to production, whose project is to set every- 
thing up in clear view, whether it be an object, a number, or a 
concept. Let everything be produced, be read, become real, visible, 
and marked with the sign of effectiveness; let everything be tran- 
scribed into force relations, into conceptual systems or into 
calculable energy; let everything be said, gathered, indexed and 
registered: this is how sex appears in pornography, but this is more 
generally the project of our whole culture, whose natural condi- 
tion is “obscenity.” Ours is a culture of “monstration” and 
demonstration, of “productive” monstrosity (the “confession” so 


Jean Baudrillard / 3? 



well analyzed by Foucault is one of its forms). We never find any 
seduction there — nor in pornography with its immediate produc- 
tion of sexual acts in a frenzied activation of pleasure; we find no 
seduction in those bodies penetrated by a gaze literally absorbed 
by the suction of the transparent void. Not a shadow of seduction 
can be detected in the universe of production, ruled by the trans- 
parency principle governing all forces in the order of visible and 
calculable phenomena: objects, machines, sexual acts, or gross 
national product . 5 

Pornography is only the paradoxical limit of the sexual, a real- 
istic exacerbation and a mad obsession with the real — this is the 
“obscene,” etymologically speaking and in all senses. But isn’t the 
sexual itself a forced materialization, and isn’t the coming of sexu- 
ality already part of the Western notion of what is real — the 
obsession peculiar to our culture with “instancing” and instru- 
mentalizing all things? Just as it is absurd to separate in other 
cultures the religious, the economic, the political, the juridical, 
and even the social and other phantasmagorical categories, for the 
reason that they do not occur there, and because these concepts 
are like so many venereal diseases with which we infect them in 
order to “understand” them better, so it is also absurd to give 
autonomy to the sexual as “instance” and as an irreducible given 
to which all other “givens” can be reduced. We need to do a cri- 
tique of sexual Reason, or rather a genealogy of sexual Reason, as 
Nietzsche has done a genealogy of Morals — because this is our 
new moral system. One could say of sexuality as of death: “It is a 
habit to which consciousness has not long been accustomed.” 

We do not understand, or we vaguely sympathize with, those 
cultures for which the sexual act has no finality in itself and for 
which sexuality does not have the deadly seriousness of an energy 


38 / Forget Foucault 



to be freed, a forced ejaculation, a production at all cost, or of a 
hygienic reckoning of the body. These are cultures which main- 
tain long processes of seduction and sensuousness in which 
sexuality is one service among others, a long procedure of gifts 
and counter-gifts; lovemaking is only the eventual outcome of 
this reciprocity measured to the rhythm of an ineluctable ritual. 
For us, this no longer has any meaning: for us, the sexual has 
become strictly the actualization of a desire in a moment of pleasure — 
all the rest is “literature.” What an extraordinary crystallization of 
the orgastic function, which is itself the materialization of an 
energetic substance. 

Ours is a culture of premature ejaculation. More and more, all 
seduction, all manner of seduction (which is itself a highly ritual- 
ized process), disappears behind the naturalized sexual imperative 
calling for the immediate realization of a desire. Our center of 
gravity has in fact shifted toward an unconscious and libidinal 
economy which only leaves room for the total naturalization of a 
desire bound either to fateful drives or to pure and simple mechan- 
ical operation, but above all to the imaginary order of repression 
and liberation. 

Nowadays, one no longer says: “You’ve got a soul and you 
must save it,” but: “You’ve got a sexual nature, and you must find 
out how to use it well.” 

“You’ve got an unconscious, and you must learn how to 
liberate it.” 

“You’ve got a body, and you must know how to enjoy it.” 

“You’ve got a libido, and you must know how to spend it,” 
etc., etc. This compulsion toward liquidity, flow, and an accelerated 
circulation of what is psychic, sexual, or pertaining to the body is 
the exact replica of the force which rules market value: capital must 


Jean Baudrillard / 39 


circulate; gravity and any fixed point must disappear; the chain 
of investments and reinvestments must never stop; value must 
radiate endlessly and in every direction. This is the form itself 
which the current realization of value takes. It is the form of capital, 
and sexuality as a catchword and a model is the way it appears at 
the level of bodies. 

Besides, the body to which we constantly refer has no other 
reality than that of the sexual and productive model. It is capital 
which gives birth in the same movement to the energetic of labor 
power and to the body we dream of today as the locus of desire and 
the unconscious. This is the body which serves as a sanctuary for 
psychic energy and drives and which, dominated by these drives 
and haunted by primary processes, has itself become primary 
process — and thus an anti-body, the ultimate revolutionary refer- 
ent. Both are simultaneously conceived in repression, and their 
apparent antagonism is yet another effect of repression. Thus, to 
rediscover in the secret of bodies an unbound “libidinal” energy 
which would be opposed to the bound energy of productive bodies, 
and to rediscover a phantasmal and instinctual truth of the body in 
desire, is still only to unearth the psychic metaphor of capital. 

This is the nature of desire and of the unconscious: the trash 
heap of political economy and the psychic metaphor of capital. 
And sexual jurisdiction is the ideal means, in a fantastic extension 
of the jurisdiction governing private property, for assigning to 
each individual the management of a certain capital: psychic 
capital, libidinal capital, sexual capital, unconscious capital. And 
each individual will be accountable to himself for his capital, 
under the sign of his own liberation. 

This is what Foucault tells us (in spite of himself): nothing 
functions with repression {repression ) , everything functions with 


40 / Forget Foucault 


production; nothing functions with repression ( refoulement ), 
everything functions with liberation. But it is the same thing. 
Any form of liberation is fomented by repression: the liberation 
of productive forces is like that of desire; the liberation of bodies 
is like that of womens liberation, etc. There is no exception to 
the logic of liberation: any force or any liberated form of speech 
constitutes one more turn in the spiral of power. This is how 
“sexual liberation” accomplishes a miracle by uniting in the same 
revolutionary ideal the two major effects of repression, liberation 
and sexuality. 

Historically, this process has been building up for at least two 
centuries, but today it is in full bloom with the blessing of psy- 
choanalysis — just as political economy and production have only 
made great strides with Marx’s sanction and blessing. It is this con- 
jecture which dominates us completely today, even through the 
“radical” contestation of Marx and psychoanalysis.* 

It is in this way that the purified axioms of Marxism and 
psychoanalysis converge in today’s only “revolutionary” catch- 
word — that of the “productivity” of “desire.” The “desiring 
machine” only fulfills, in one single movement, the positive destiny 

* Because it is a partial critique, the political critique of Marx against the bureau- 
cratic perversion of the revolution by revolutionary parties and against the 
economistic infrastructural perversion of the class struggle, etc., amounts to gen- 
eralizing the axiomatic of production (productivity regarded as a discourse of 
total reference). This is Marxisms assumption in its purest form. 

Likewise, because it is only partial, the oedipal critique of psychoanalysis 
(Deleuze, etc.) against the perversion of desire by the signifier, the law, castra- 
tion, and the oedipal model only glorifies the axiomatic of desire and of the 
unconscious in its purest form. 


Jean Baudriilard / 41 


of Marxism and psychoanalysis. They at last come together under 
less naive auspices than Reich’s, still too strongly marked by the 
Oedipus complex, the proletariat, repression, and class struggle. 
Reich had aimed too soon at the synthesis of two disciplines that 
were both historical and psychological and that were still cluttered 
with cumbersome elements: his mixture is archaic and his inter- 
pretation does not hold up; the times were not yet ready. But 
today, on the basis of a productivity cleansed of its contradictions, 
its historical objectives and its determinations and of a libido 
cleansed in its own way (of the Oedipus complex, repression, and 
of its too-genital, too familial, determinations) the collusion and 
synthesis may finally be accomplished to each other’s benefit: the 
mirror of production and that of desire will be able to refract each 
other endlessly. The category of the sexual and sexual discourse were 
born in the same way that the category of the clinical and the clin- 
ical gaze came into being — where there was nothing before except 
uncontrolled, senseless, unstable, or highly ritualized forms. And 
where there was therefore no repression either , that leitmotiv by 
which we evaluate all earlier societies much more so than ours; we 
condemn them for being primitive from the technological point 
of view; these were repressed, non-“liberated” societies which did 
not even know of the unconscious. Psychoanalysis came to clear 
the way for sex by telling what was hidden — how incredible is the 
racism of truth, the evangelical racism of psychoanalysis; every- 
thing changes with the coming of the Word. If the question 
remains unsettled for our culture (repression or not), it is nonethe- 
less without ambiguity for the others: they know neither repression 
nor the unconscious because they do not know the category of the 
sexual. We act as if the sexual were “repressed” wherever it does not 
appear in its own right: this is our way of saving sex through the 


42 / Foraet Foucault 



“sex principle.” It is our moral system (psychic and psychoanalytic) 
which remains hidden behind the hypothesis of repression and 
which governs our blindness. To talk about sexuality, “repressed” 
or not, “sublimated” or not, in feudal, rural, and primitive soci- 
eties is a sign of utter foolishness (like reinterpreting religion, ne 
varietur , as ideology and mystification). And on that basis, then, 
it becomes possible again to say with Foucault: there is not and 
there has never been any repression in our culture either — not, how- 
ever, according to his meaning, but in the sense that there has 
never truly been any sexuality. Sexuality, like political economy, is 
only montage (all of whose twists and turns Foucault analyzes); 
sexuality as we hear about it and as it “is spoken,” even as the “id 
speaks,” is only a simulacrum which experience has forever crossed 
up, baffled, and surpassed, as in any system. The coherence and 
transparence of homo sexualis has never had more reality than that 
of homo oeconomicus. 

A long process simultaneously establishes the psychic, the sex- 
ual, and also the “other scene” of fantasy and the unconscious, as 
well as the energy to be produced there. Such psychic energy is but 
a direct effect of the “scenic” hallucination of repression through 
which energy is hallucinated as sexual substance; it will then 
become metaphorized and metonymized according to the various 
topical, economical, etc., instances and according to modalities of 
secondary, tertiary, etc., repression: what a marvelous edifice on 
the part of psychoanalysis, the loveliest hallucination of the world 
unseen, as Nietzsche would say. What an extraordinary effective- 
ness this model of energetic and scenic simulation possesses; what 
an extraordinary theoretical psychodrama is presented in this 
mise-en-scene of the psyche, this scenario of sex as an instance, as 
an eternal reality (as elsewhere others have hypostatized production 


Jean Baudrillard / 43 



into a generic dimension or driving energy). What does it matter 
whether the economic, the biological, or the psychic bears the cost 
of this mise-en-scene — or whether we refer to the “scene” or to the 
“other scene” — it is the scenario that counts, it is psychoanalysis in 
its entirety as a model of simulation which must be questioned. 

In this production-at-all-costs that is the modern sacrament of 
sex, there is such terrorism in the project of liquidation that one 
does not see why, unless it’s for the beauty of the paradox, anyone 
would refuse to see repression there. Or could it be because this is 
too weak? Foucault doesn’t want to talk about repression: but what 
else is that slow, brutal infection of the mind through sex, whose 
only equivalent in the past was infection through the soul (see 
Nietzsche — the infection through sex is nothing anyway but the 
historical and mental reversal of the infection through the soul 
under the sign of materialist parousia!) 

But it is really useless to argue about the terms. One can say 
either way: speaking is the primary injunction and repression only 
a detour (in this sense, labor and exploitation are also only a 
detour and the alibi for something else more fundamental: no 
argument here), or repression comes first and speech is only a 
more modern variant of it (“repressive desublimation”). Basically, 
both hypotheses don’t change much of anything. What is disturbing 
in the first hypothesis (Foucault’s) is that if there has been repres- 
sion somewhere, or at least the effect of repression (and this can 
hardly be denied), then there is no way to explain it. Why is the 
imaginary of repression necessary for the balance of powers, if 
these live on the induction, production, and extortion of speech? 
On the other hand, one sees better why speech (a metastable 
system) would come after repression, which is only an unstable 
power system. 


44 / Forget Foucault 



If sex exists solely when it is spoken and discoursed about and 
when it is confessed, what was there before we spoke about it? What 
break establishes this discourse on sex, and in relationship to what? 
We see what new powers are organized around it, but what peripeteia 
of power instigates it? What does it neutralize, or settle, or put to an 
end* (otherwise who can ever pretend to end it, as Foucault states on 
p. 157, “to break away from the agency of sex” 6 )? Wherever we turn, 
it is not an innocent undertaking to “give meaning to sex”; power 
starts off from something (otherwise there would not even be those 
resistances noted on p. 96), something like an exclusion, a division, 
or a denial, and on that basis power can “produce something real” or 
produce the real. It is only from this point on that we can conceive 
of a new peripeteia of power — a catastrophic one this time — where 
power no longer succeeds in producing the real, in reproducing itself 
as real, or in opening new spaces to the reality principle, and where 
it falls into the hyperreal and vanishes: this is the end of power, the end 
of the strategy of the real. 

* According to Foucault, this break puts an end to “the body and its pleasure,” 
the innocence of libertinage, and the ars erotica (of which we still retain a few 
terms, such as seduction, charm, sensuality, jouissance, “pleasure” itself — we no 
longer dare talk about voluptuousness — terms which sex and psychoanalysis 
have succeeded neither in annexing nor in discrediting with their discourse). I 
think it puts an end to something more radical, a configuration where not only 
sex and desire but even the body and pleasure are not specified as such, just as 
the discourse of production puts an end to a regime where not only exchange 
value but also use value do not exist. Use value is the ultimate alibi, in sex as 
well as in production. And I’m afraid that in Foucault “pleasures” are still 
opposed to the “exchange value of the sexual” only insofar as they constitute the 
use value of the body. 


Jean Baudrillard / 45 


For Foucault, the crisis or peripeteia of power does not even 
exist; there is only modulation, capillarity, a “micro-physical” seg- 
mentation of power as Deleuze says. And this is true: for Foucault, 
power operates right away like Monod’s genetic code, according to 
a diagram of dispersion and command (DNA), and according to 
a teleonomical order. Down with theological power, long live teleo- 
nomical power! Teleonomy is the end of all final determination 
and of all dialectic: it is the kind of generative inscription of the 
code that one expects — an immanent, ineluctable, and always pos- 
itive inscription that yields only to infinitesimal mutations. If we 
look closely, power according to Foucault strangely resembles “this 
conception of social space which is as new as the recent concep- 
tion of physical and mathematical spaces,” as Deleuze says now 
that he has suddenly been blinded by the benefits of science. It is 
precisely this collusion that we must denounce, or laugh about. 
Everyone today wallows in the molecular as they do in the revolu- 
tionary. Ffowever, until further notice — and this could be the only 
one — the true molecule is not that of the revolutionaries; it is 
Monod’s molecule of the genetic code and the “complex spirals of 
DNA.” We should not, however, rediscover as an apparatus ( dis - 
posit if) of desire what the cyberneticists have described as a matrix 
of code and of control. 7 

We see what benefit there is over the old finalist, dialectical, or 
repressive theories in supposing a total positivity, a teleonomy and 
a microphysics of power, but we must also see what we are getting 
into: a strange complicity with cybernetics which challenge pre- 
cisely the same earlier schemas (Foucault does not, for that matter, 
hide his affinity with Jacob, Monod, and recently Jacques Ruffle, 
De la Biologie a la Culture [Paris: Flammarion, 1976]). The same 
can be said of Deleuze s molecular topology of desire, whose flows 


46 / Forget Foucault 



and connections will soon converge if they have not already 
done so with genetic simulations, microcellular drifts, and the 
random facilitations [fray ages) of code manipulators. In the Kafka: 
Toward a Minor Literature (University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 
of Deleuze-Guattari, the transcendental Law such as it is found in 
The Castle is opposed to the immanence of desire in the adjacent 
offices. How can we fail to see that the Law of the Castle has its 
“rhizomes” in the corridors and the offices — the “bar” or the break 
constituted by the law has simply been geared down ad infinitum 
in cellular and molecular succession. Desire is therefore only the 
molecular version of the Law. And what a strange coincidence to 
find schemas of desire and schemas of control everywhere. It is a 
spiral of power, of desire, and of the molecule which is now 
bringing us openly toward the final peripeteia of absolute control. 
Beware of the molecular! 

This “veering away” in Foucaults writing occurs progressively 
since Discipline and Punish , going against Madness and Civiliza- 
tion and the whole original ordering of his genealogy. Why 
wouldn’t sex, like madness, have gone through a confinement 
phase in which the terms of certain forms of reason and a domi- 
nant moral system were fomented before sex and madness, 
according to the logic of exclusion, once more became discourses 
of reference? Sex once more becomes the catchword of a new 
moral system; madness becomes the paradoxical form of reason for 
a society too long haunted by its absence and dedicated this time 
to its (normalized) cult under the sign of its own liberation. Such 
is also the trajectory of sex in the curved space of discrimination 
and repression where a mise-en-scene is installed as a long-term 
strategy to produce sex later as a new rule of the game. Repression 
or the secret is the locus of an imaginary inscription on whose basis 


Jean Baudriiiard / 47 



madness or sex will subsequently become exchangeable as value.* 
Everywhere, as Foucault himself has so well demonstrated, dis- 
crimination is the violent founding act of Reason — why wouldn’t 
the same hold true of sexual reason? 

This time we are in a full universe, a space radiating with 
power but also cracked, like a shattered windshield still holding 
together. However, this “power” remains a mystery — starting from 
despotic centrality, it becomes by the halfway point a “multiplicity 
of force relations” (but what is a force relation without a force 
resultant? It’s a bit like Pere Ubu’s polyhedra that set off in all 
directions like crabs) and it culminates, at the extreme pole, with 
resistances (what a divine surprise on pp. 95 — 96 !) so small and so 
tenuous that, literally speaking, atoms of power and atoms of 
resistance merge at this microscopic level. The same fragment of 
gesture, body, gaze, and discourse encloses both the positive elec- 
tricity of power and the negative electricity of resistance (and we 
wonder what the origin of that resistance might turn out to be; 
nothing in the book prepares us for it except the allusion to some 
inextricable “force relations.” But since we may ask ourselves 
exactly the same question concerning power, a balance is achieved 
in a discourse which in essence staunchly describes the only true 
spiral, that of its own power) . 

This is not an objection. It is a good thing that terms lose 
their meaning at the limits of the text (they don’t do it enough).** 
Foucault makes the term sex and its true principle (“the fictive 

* Sexual discourse is invented through repression, for repression speaks about sex 
better than any other form of discourse. Through repression (and only through 
repression), sex takes on reality and intensity because only confinement gives it 
the stature of myth. Its liberation is the beginning of its end. 


48 / T orget Foucault 



point of sex”) lose their meaning; the analytics of power is not 
pushed to its conclusion at the point where power cancels itself 
out or where it has never been. 

As economic reference loses its strength, either the reference of 
desire or that of power becomes preponderant. The reference of 
desire, born in psychoanalysis, comes to maturity in Deleuzian 
anti-psychoanalysis under the form of a shattered molecular desire. 
The reference of power, which has a long history, is discussed again 
today by Foucault at the level of dispersed, interstitial power as a 
grid of bodies and of the ramiform pattern of controls. Foucault 
at least economizes desire, as well as history (but being very pru- 
dent, he does not deny them), yet everything still comes back to 
some kind of power — without having that notion reduced and 
expurgated — just as with Deleuze everything comes back to some 
kind of desire, or with Lyorard to some kind of intensity: these are 
shattered notions, yet they remain miraculously intact in their 
current acceptance. Desire and intensity remain force / notions; 
with Foucault power remains, despite being pulverized, a structural 
and a polar notion with a perfect genealogy and an inexplicable 
presence, a notion which cannot be surpassed in spite of a sort of 
latent denunciation, a notion which is whole in each of its points 
or microscopic dots. It is hard to see how it could be reversed (we 
find the same aporia in Deleuze, where desire’s reversion into its 
own repression is inexplicable). Power no longer has a coup de 

** This is what a theory should be at best, rather than a statement of some truth, 
or above all a “breaking away from the agency of sex” this is wishful thinking; 
and besides, if there is no repression, what does this emancipation mean? But we 
can bet that a new militant generation will rise over this horizon, brandishing 
“new procedures of truth.” 


Jean Baudrillard / 49 


force — there is simply nothing else either on this side of it or 
beyond it (the passage from the “molar” or the “molecular” is for 
Deleuze still a revolution of desire, but for Foucault it is an 
anamorphosis of power). Only now Foucault does not see that 
power is dying (even infinitesimal power), that it is not just pul- 
verized by pulverulent, that it is undermined by a reversal and 
tormented by a reversibility and a death which cannot appear in 
the genealogical process alone. 

With Foucault, we always brush against political determina- 
tion in its last instance. One form dominates and is diffracted into 
the models characteristic of the prison, the military, the asylum, 
and disciplinary action. This form is no longer rooted in ordinary 
relations of production (these, on the contrary are modeled after 
it); this form seems to find its procedural system within itself — 
and this represents enormous progress over the illusion of 
establishing power in a substance of production or of desire. Fou- 
cault unmasks all the final or causal illusions concerning power, 
but he does not tell us anything concerning the simulacrum of 
power itself Power is an irreversible principle of organization 
because it fabricates the real (always more and more of the real), 
effecting a quadrature, nomenclature, and dictature without 
appeal; nowhere does it cancel itself out, become entangled in 
itself, or mingle with death. In this sense, even if it has no finality 
and no last judgment, power returns to its own identity again as a 
final principle', it is the last term, the irreducible web, the last tale 
that can be told; it is what structures the indeterminate equation 
of the word. 

According to Foucault, this is the come-on that power offers , and 
it is not simply a discursive trap. What Foucault does not see is that 
power is never there and that its institution, like the institution 


50 / Forget Foucault 



of spatial perspective versus “real” space in the Renaissance, is 
only a simulation of perspective — it is no more reality than eco- 
nomic accumulation — and what a tremendous trap that is. 
Whether of time, value, the subject, etc., the axiom and the myth 
of a real or possible accumulation govern us everywhere, although 
we know that nothing is ever amassed and that stockpiles are self- 
consuming, like modern megalopolis, or like overloaded memories. 
Any attempt at accumulation is ruined in advance by the void.* 
Something in us disaccumulates unto death, undoes, destroys, 
liquidates, and disconnects so that we can resist the pressure of 
the real, and live. Something at the bottom of the whole system 
of production resists the infinite expansion of production — other- 
wise, we would all be already buried. There is something in 
power that resists as well, and we see no difference here between 
those who enforce it and those who submit to it: this distinction 
has become meaningless, not because the roles are interchangeable 
but because power is in its form reversible , because on one side 
and the other something holds out against the unilateral exercise 
and the infinite expansion of power, just as elsewhere against the 
infinite expansion of production. This resistance is not a “desire” 
it is what causes power to come undone in exact proportion to 
its logical and irreversible extension. And its taking place every- 
where today. 

In fact, the whole analysis of power needs to be reconsidered. 
To have power or not, to take it or lose it, to incarnate it or to 
challenge it: if this were power, it would not even exist. Foucault 

*It is this impossible accumulation which entails the equal impossibility of 
repression, for repression is only the inverse figure of accumulation — from the 
other side of the “bar.” 


Jean Baudrillard / 51 



tells us something else; power is something that functions; 
“...power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a 
certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one 
attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” 
( The History of Sexuality, p. 93). Neither central, nor unilateral, 
nor dominant, power is distributional; like a vector, it operates 
through relays and transmissions. Because it is an immanent, 
unlimited field of forces, we still do not understand what power 
runs into and against what it stumbles since it is expansion, pure 
magnetization. However, if power were this magnetic infiltration 
ad infinitum of the social field, it would long ago have ceased 
meeting with any resistance. Inversely, if it were the one-sidedness 
of an act of submission, as in the traditional “optic,” it would long 
ago have been overthrown everywhere. It would have collapsed 
under the pressure of antagonistic forces. Yet this has never hap- 
pened, apart from a few “historical” exceptions. For “materialist” 
thinking, this can only appear to be an internally insoluble prob- 
lem: why don’t “dominated” masses immediately overthrow 
power? Why fascism? Against this unilateral theory (but we under- 
stand why it survives, particularly among “revolutionaries” — they 
would really like power for themselves), against this native vision, 
but also against Foucault’s functional vision in terms of relays 
and transmissions, we must say that power is something that is 
exchanged. Not in the economical sense, but in the sense that 
power is executed according to a reversible cycle of seduction, 
challenge, and ruse (neither axis nor indefinite relay, but a cycle). 
And if power cannot be exchanged in this sense, it simply disap- 
pears. We must say that power seduces , but not in the vulgar sense 
of a complicit form of desire on the part of those who are domi- 
nated — this comes down to basing it in the desire of others, 


52 / Forget Foucault 



which is really going overboard in taking people for idiots — no, 
power seduces by that reversibility which haunts it, and upon 
which a minimal symbolic cycle is set up. Dominators and domi- 
nated exist no more than victims and executioners. (While 
exploiters and exploited do in fact exist, they are on different sides 
because there is no reversibility in production, which is precisely 
the point: nothing essential happens at that level.) With power 
there are no antagonistic positions: it is carried out according to a 
cycle of seduction. 

The one-sidedness of a force relation never exists, a one-sided- 
ness upon which a power “structure” might be established, or a form 
of ‘ reality” for power and its perpetual movement, which is linear 
and final in the traditional vision but radiating and spiraling in Fou- 
cault. Unilateral or segmentary: this is the dream of power imposed 
on us by reason. But nothing yearns to be that way; everything seeks 
its own death, including power. Or rather — but this is the same 
thing — everything wants to be exchanged, reversed, or abolished in 
a cycle (this is in fact why neither repression nor the unconscious 
exists: reversibility is always already there). That alone is what seduces 
deep down , and that alone constitutes pure jouissance, while power 
only satisfies a particular form of hegemonic logic belonging to 
reason. Seduction is elsewhere. 

Seduction is stronger than power because it is a reversible and 
mortal process, while power wants to be irreversible like value, as 
well as cumulative and immortal like value. Power shares all the 
illusions of the real and of production; it wants to belong to the 
order of the real and so falls over into the imaginary and into self 
superstition (helped by theories which analyze it even if only to 
challenge it). Seduction, however, does not partake of the real 
order. It never belongs to the order of force or to force relations. 


Jean Baudrillard / 53 



It is precisely for this reason that seduction envelops the whole 
real process of power, as well as the whole real order of production, 
with this never-ending reversibility and disaccumulation — without 
which neither power nor production would even exist. 

Behind power, or at the very heart of power and of produc- 
tion, there is a void which gives them today a last glimmer of 
reality. Without that which reverses them, cancels them, and 
seduces them, they would never have attained reality. 

Besides, the real has never interested anyone. It is the locus of 
disenchantment par excellence, the locus of simulacrum of accu- 
mulation against death. Nothing could be worse. It is the 
imaginary catastrophe standing behind them that sometimes 
makes reality and the truth fascinating. Do you think that power, 
economy, sex — all the reals big numbers — would have stood up 
one single instant without a fascination to support them which 
originates precisely in the inversed mirror where they are reflected 
and continually reversed, and where their imaginary catastrophe 
generates a tangible and immanent gratification? 

Today especially, the real is no more than a stockpile of dead 
matter, dead bodies, and dead language. It still makes us feel 
secure today to evaluate this stock of what is real (lets not talk 
about energy: the ecological complaint hides the fact that it is not 
material energy which is disappearing on the species’ horizon but 
the energy of the real , the reality of the real and of every serious 
possibility, capitalistic or revolutionary, of managing the real). If 
the horizon of production has vanished, then the horizon of 
speech, sexuality, or desire can still carry on; there will always be 
something to liberate, to enjoy, and to exchange with others 
through words: now that’s real, that’s substantial, that’s prospective 
stock. That’s power. 


54 / Forget Foucault 



Not so, unfortunately, Not for long, that is. This sort of thing 
consumes itself as it goes along. We have made, and have wanted 
to make, an irreversible agency ( instance ) out of both sex and 
power; and out of desire we have made a force or irreversible ener- 
gy (a stock of energy, needless to say, since desire is never far from 
capital). For we give meaning, following our use of the imaginary, 
only to what is irreversible; accumulation, progress, growth, pro- 
duction, value, power, and desire itself are all irreversible 
processes — inject the slightest dose of reversibility into our eco- 
nomical, political, institutional, or sexual machinery ( dispositif ) 
and everything collapses at once. This is what endows sexuality 
today with this mythic authority over bodies and hearts. But it is 
also what makes it fragile, like the whole structure of production. 

Seduction is stronger than production. It is stronger than sex- 
uality and must never be confused with it. It is not an internal 
process of sexuality, although it is generally reduced to that. It is a 
circular and reversible process of challenge, one-upmanship, and 
death. The sexual, on the contrary, is the form of seduction that 
has been reduced and restricted to the energetic terms of desire. 

What we need to analyze is the intrication of the process of 
seduction with the process of production and power and the irrup- 
tion of a minimum of reversibility in every irreversible process, 
secretly ruining and dismantling it while simultaneously insuring 
that minimal continuum of pleasure moving across it and without 
which it would be nothing. And we must keep in mind that pro- 
duction everywhere and always seeks to exterminate seduction in 
order to establish itself over the single economy governing force 
relations; we must also keep in mind that sex or its production seeks 
everywhere to exterminate seduction in order to establish itself over 
the single economy governing relations of desire. 


Jean Baudrillard / 55 



When Jesus arose from the dead, he became a Zombie. 

— Graffito, Watts, Los Angeles 

The Messiah will only come when he will no longer be necessary. He will 
come one day after his advent. He will not come on the day of the Last 
Judgment, but on the day after. 

— Kafka 


THUS WILL THEY AWAIT THE MESSIAH, not only on the day after, 
but on all the following days, even though he was already there. 
Or in other words: God was already dead long before they knew 
it, just as light-years separate the same event from one star to the 
next, thereby separating advent from event. 

Thus will they always be one Revolution late. Or rather: they 
will await the Revolution to the very day, even though it has 
already been accomplished. And when it happens, it will be 
because it is no longer necessary; it will be nothing more than the 
sign of what has already occurred. 

Are the Messiah and the Revolution so insignificant that they 
must always arrive late, like a projected shadow or a reality effect 


57 



after the fact, whereas things have never needed the Messiah or a 
Revolution in order to take place? 

But in the end the Revolution signifies only this: that it has 
already taken place and that it had a meaning just before, one day 
before, but not anymore now. When it comes, it is to hide the fact 
that it is no longer meaningful. 

In fact, the revolution has already taken place. Neither the 
bourgeois revolution nor the communist revolution: just the 
revolution. This means that an entire cycle is ending, and they 
have not noticed it. And they will play the game of linear revo- 
lution, whereas it has already curved upon itself to produce its 
simulacrum, like stucco angels whose extremities join in a 
curved mirror. 

All things come to an end in their redoubled simulation — a 
sign that a cycle is completed. When the reality effect, like the use- 
less day- after Messiah, starts uselessly duplicating the course of 
things, it is the sign that a cycle is ending in an interplay of simu- 
lacra where everything is replayed before death, at which point 
everything falls over far behind the horizon of truth. 

It is useless therefore to run after power or to discourse about 
it ad infinitum since from now on it also partakes of the sacred 
horizon of appearances and is also there only to hide the fact that 
it no longer exists, or rather to indicate that since the apogee of the 
political has been crossed, the other side of the cycle is now starting 
in which power reverts into its own simulacrum. 

Power is no more held than a secret is extracted, for the 
secrecy of power is the same as that of the secret: it does not exist. 
On the other side of the cycle — the side of the decline of the 
real — only the mise-en-scene of the secret, or of power, is opera- 
tional. But this is the sign that the substance of power, after a 


58 / Forget Foucault 



ceaseless expansion of several centuries, is brutally exploding and 
that the sphere of power is in the process of contracting from a star 
of first magnitude to a red dwarf, and then to a black hole absorbing 
all the substance of the real and all the surrounding energies, now 
transmuted at once into a single pure sign — the sign of the social 
whose density crushes us. 


NEITHER AN AGENCY [instance ) , a structure, a substance, nor in 
fact a force relation, power is a challenge. From the power puppet 
of primitive societies which talks but has nothing to say to the 
current form of power which is there only to exorcise the absence 
of power, a whole cycle has been covered which is one of a double 
challenge, the challenge of power against all of society and the 
challenge against those who hold power. This is the secret history 
both of power and its catastrophe. 

Let us consider the real history of capital. All materialist crit- 
ical thought is only the attempt to stop capital, to freeze it in the 
moment of its economic and political rationality. Capitals “mirror 
phase,” lulled by the sirens of dialectics. Of course at this point 
materialist thinking also freezes everything that resists it at this 
one phase. Fortunately, capital does not remain trapped in this 
model but goes beyond it in its irrational movement to leave 
standing there an example of materialist thought curled back upon 
its nostalgic dialectics and its already lost idea of the revolution. 
Such thought was in essence only a rather superficial moment of 
theory, but above all it operated like a brake in attempting to neu- 
tralize, with a well-tempered socialite and an ideal social 

/ 

transparence, the deep rooted opposition and deadly challenge to 
the social itself. 


Jean Baucirillard / 59 



Today the extremes finally come face to face, once the conserv- 
ative obstacle of critical thought has been removed. Not only do 
social forces clash (however dominated by one single great model of 
socialization), but forms come into opposition as well — the forms of 
capital and of sacrifice, of value and of challenge — with the death of 
the social at stake. The social itself must be considered a model of 
simulation and a form to be overthrown since it is a strategic form 
of value brutally positioned by capital and then idealized by critical 
thought. And we still do not know what it is that forever has fought 
against it and that irresistibly destroys it today. 

All forms of power have endeavored to camouflage this fun- 
damental challenge in the form of force relations such as 
dominator/ dominated and exploiter/exploited, thereby channeling 
all resistance into a frontal relation (even reduced to microstrategies, 
this conception still dominates in Foucault: the puzzle of guerilla 
warfare has simply been substituted for the chessboard of classical 
battle). For in terms of force relations, power always wins, even if it 
changes hands as revolutions come and go. 

But it is doubtful if anyone has ever thought it possible to 
exorcise power by force. Rather, each person knows deep down 
that any form of power is a personal challenge, a challenge to the 
death, and one that can only be answered by a counterchallenge to 
break the logic of power or, even better, to enclose it in a circular 
logic. Such is the nature of this counterchallenge — nonpolitical, 
nondialectical, and nonstrategic — but whose strength throughout 
history has nonetheless been incalculable: this is the challenge 
which dares those who hold power to exercise it to the limit and 
which can only spell death for those who are dominated. A chal- 
lenge to power to be power, power of the sort that is total, 
irreversible, without scruple, and with no limit to its violence. No 


60 / Forget Foucault 



form of power dares go that far (to the point where in any case it 
too would be destroyed). And so it is in facing this unanswerable 
challenge that power starts to break up. 

There was a time when power allowed itself to be sacrificed 
according to the rules of this symbolic game from which it cannot 
escape. A time when power possessed the ephemeral and mortal 
quality of what had to be sacrificed. Ever since it has sought to 
escape that rule, or has ceased being a symbolic power in order to 
become a political power and a strategy of social domination, the 
symbolic challenge has not stopped haunting power in the politi- 
cal sense, nor has it stopped undoing the truth of the political. 
Now that it has been struck by that challenge, the entire substance 
of the political is crumbling. We are at the point where no one 
exercises power or wants it anymore, not because of some histori- 
cal or temperamental weakness but because its secret has been lost, 
and no one wants to take up the challenge any longer. How true 
it is, then, that power need only be enclosed within power for it 
to burst. 

Against that “strategy” which is not a strategy, power has 
defended itself in every possible way (this is exactly what consti- 
tutes its practice): by being democratized, liberalized, vulgarized, 
and, more recently, decentralized and deterritorialized, etc. But 
whereas force relations become easily trapped and de-energized by 
these tricks of the political, the reverse challenge, with its 
ineluctable simplicity, comes to an end only with power. 


PEOPLE ALWAYS REASON in terms of strategies and force rela- 
tions; they don’t see the desperate effort of the oppressed to escape 
oppression or uproot power. They never measure the extraordinary 


Jean Baudrillard / 61 



force of the challenge because this challenge is unremitting and 
invisible (although that force can manifest itself in large-scale acts, 
but acts “without objective, without duration, and without future”). 
The challenge is hopeless — but then hope is a weak value, and his- 
tory itself is a value degraded through time and distorted between 
its end and its means. All the stakes of history are eluctable, nego- 
tiable, and dialectic. Challenge is the opposite of dialogue : it creates 
a nondialectic, ineluctable space. It is neither a means nor an end: it 
opposes its own space to political space. It knows neither middle- 
range nor long-term; its only term is the immediacy of a response or 
of death. Everything linear, including history, has an end; challenge 
alone is without end since it is indefinitely reversible. And it is this 
reversibility which gives it its prodigious force.* 

No one has ever seriously considered this other, nonpolitical 
side of power, the side of its symbolic reversal. However, because 
it lacks definition by the void, this oppositional challenge has 
always been at stake and has overcome in the end power’s political 
definition as central, legislative, or police power. It is also involved 
at the current stage, where power only appears as a sort of curvature 

* This is no doubt the same reversibility which the category of the feminine has 
exerted on the masculine throughout the entire course of our culture’s sexual his- 
tory: thus the challenge which the feminine offers the masculine of taking its 
pleasure ( jouissance ) alone, and of alone exercising the right to pleasure and sex. 
Women’s right to reserve sex and to deny pleasure, their constant reversals, and 
their continuous refraction of sexual power into the void have always exerted an 
incalculable pressure, with no possibility of response from the “strong” mascu- 
line side except through a headlong flight into phallocracy. Today phallocracy is 
crumbling under this very challenge, taking with it all forms of traditional sexu- 
ality — and not at all due to social pressure from any sort of feminine liberation. 


62 / Forget Foucault 



of social space, or the summation of scattered particles, or the 
branching out of random elements “in cluster” (any term from 
microphysics or computer theory can be transferred today into 
power, as well as into desire). This is a stage of power, a la Fou- 
cault , the conductor, inductor, and strategist of speech. But the 
turnaround Foucault manages from power’s repressive centrality to 
its shifting positivity is only a peripeteia. We stay effectively with- 
in political discourse — “we never get out of it,” says Foucault 
— although we need precisely to grasp the radical lack of defini- 
tion in the notion of the political, its lack of existence, its 
simulation, and what from that point on sends the mirror of the 
void back to power. In effect, we need a symbolic violence more 
powerful than any political violence. 

Let us consider now the real history of class struggle whose only 
moments were those when the dominated class fought on the basis 
of its self-denial “as such,” on the basis of the sole fact that it 
amounted to nothing. Marx had told it that it should be abolished 
one day, but this was still a political perspective. When the class 
itself, or a fraction of it, prefers to act as a radical non-class, or as 
the lack of existence of a class, i.e., to act out its own death right 
away within the explosive structure of capital, when it chooses to 
implode suddenly instead of seeking political expansion and class 
hegemony, then the result is June ’48, the Commune, or May ’68. 
The secret of the void lies here, in the incalculable force of the 
implosion (contrary to our imaginary concept of revolutionary 
explosion) — think of the Latin Quarter on the afternoon of May 3. 

Power did not always consider itself as power, and the secret of 
the great politicians was to know that power does not exist. To 
know that it is only a perspectival space of simulation, as was the 
pictorial Renaissance, and that if power seduces, it is precisely — 


Jean Baudrillard / 63 



what the naive realists of politics will never understand — because 
it is simulacrum and because it undergoes a metamorphosis into 
signs and is invented on the basis of signs. (This is why parody , the 
reversal of signs or their hyperextension, can touch power more 
deeply than any force relation.) This secret of power’s lack of exis- 
tence that the great politicians shared also belongs to the great 
bankers, who know that money is nothing, that money does not 
exist; and it also belonged to the great theologians and inquisitors 
who knew that God does not exist, that God is dead. This gives 
them incredible superiority. Power is truly sovereign when it 
grasps this secret and confronts itself with that very challenge. 
When it ceases to do so and pretends to find a truth, a substance, 
or a representation (in the will of the people, etc.), then it loses its 
sovereignty, allowing others to hurl back the challenge of its own 
life or death, until it dies in at the hands of that infatuation with 
itself, that imaginary concept of itself, and that superstitious belief 
in itself as a substance; it dies as well when it fails to recognize 
( meconnaissance ) itself as a void, or as something reversible in 
death. At one time leaders were killed when they lost that secret. 


WHEN ONE TALKS SO MUCH about power, it’s because it can no 
longer be found anywhere. The same goes for God: the stage in 
which he was everywhere came just before the one in which he was 
dead. Even the death of God no doubt came before the stage in 
which he was everywhere. The same goes for power, and if one 
speaks about it so much and so well, that’s because it is deceased, a 
ghost, a puppet; such is also the meaning of Kafka’s words: the 
Messiah of the day after is only a God resuscitated from among the 
dead, a zombie. The finesse and the microscopic nature of the analysis 


64 / Forget Foucault 



are themselves a “nostalgia effect.” And so everywhere we see power 
coupled with seduction (it’s almost obligatory these days) in order 
to give it a second existence. Power gets its fresh blood from desire. 
And its no longer anything more than a sort of “desire effect” at the 
confines of the social, or a sort of “strategy effect” at the confines 
of history. It is here also that “the” powers of Foucault come into 
play: grafted upon the privacy of bodies, the tracing of discourses, 
the facilitation of gestures, in a more insinuating, more subtle, and 
more discursive strategy which there too takes away power from 
history and brings it nearer to seduction. 

This universal fascination with power in its exercise and its 
theory is so intense because it is a fascination with a dead power 
characterized by a simultaneous “resurrection effect,” in an 
obscene and parodic mode, of all the forms of power already 
seen — exactly like sex in pornography. The imminence of the 
death of all the great referents (religious, sexual, political, etc.) is 
expressed by exacerbating the forms of violence and representation 
that characterized them. There is no doubt that fascism, for exam- 
ple, is the first obscene and pornographic form of a desperate 
“revival” of political power. As the violent reactivation of a form of 
power that despairs of its rational foundations (the form of repre- 
sentation that was emptied of its meaning during the course of the 
nineteenth and twentieth centuries), as the violent reactivation of 
the social in a society that despairs of its own rational and con- 
tractual foundation, fascism is nevertheless the only fascinating 
modern form of power: it is the only one since Machiavelli to 
assert itself as such, as a challenge, by trifling with all forms of 
political “truth” and it is the only one to have taken up the chal- 
lenge to assume power unto death (whether its own or that of 
others). Besides, it is because it has taken up the challenge that 


Jean Baudrillard / 65 



fascism has benefited from this strange consent, this absence of resis- 
tance to power. Why have all the symbolic resistances failed in the face 
of fascism — a unique fact in history? No ideological mystification 
and no sexual repression a la Reich can explain it. Only challenge 
can arouse such a passion for responding to it, such a frenzied assent 
to play the game in return, and thus raise every resistance. This, 
moreover, remains a mystery: why does one respond to a challenge? 
For what reason does one accept to play better, and feel passionately 
compelled to answer such an arbitrary injunction? 

Fascist power is then the only form which was able to reenact 
the ritual prestige of death, but (and most importantly here) in an 
already posthumous and phony mode, a mode of one-upmanship 
and mise-en-scene , and in an aesthetic mode — as Benjamin clearly 
saw — that was no longer truly sacrificial. Fascisms politics is an 
aesthetics of death, one that already has the look of a nostalgia fad; 
and everything that has had this look since then must be inspired 
by fascism, understood as an already nostalgic obscenity and vio- 
lence, as an already reactionary scenario of power and death which 
is already obsolete the very moment it appears in history. Again, 
an eternal shift in the advent of the Messiah, as Kafka says. An 
eternal inner simulation of power, which is never already ( jamais 
deja) anything but the sign of what it was. 

We find the same nostalgia and the same simulation charac- 
teristic of nostalgia fads when we look today at “micro” fascisms 
and “micro” powers. The “micro” operator can only downshift 
from what fascism may have been without resolving it and trans- 
form an extremely complex scenario of simulation and death into 
a simplified “floating signifier,” “whose essential function is 
denunciation” (Foucault). Its function is also invocation because 
the memory of fascism (like the memory of power), even in the 


66 / Forget Foucault 



micro form, is still the nostalgic invocation of the political, or of 
a form of truth for the political ; and its invocation simultaneously 
allows us to save the hypothesis of desire, whose mere paranoiac 
accident power and fascism can always appear to be. 


IN ANY CASE, power lures us on and truth lures us on. Everything 
is in the lightning-quick contraction in which an entire cycle of 
accumulation, of power, or of truth comes to a close. There is 
never any inversion or any subversion: the cycle must be accom- 
plished. But it can happen instantaneously. It is death that is at 
stake in this contraction. 


1. Art Press 22 (January-February, 1976): 3, [Translators note] 

2. Roland Barthes, The Empire of Signs, tr. Richard Howard, New York, Hill & 
Wang, (1970) 1982. 

3. Gilles Deleuze, “Ecrivain Non: Un Nouveau Cartographe,” Critique 31(1975): 
1207-27. [Translator’s note] 

4. See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophre- 
nia , trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem, and H. Lane (New York, 1977) and Jean-Francois 
Lyotard, Li bidinal Economy, tr. I.LH. Grant, London, Athlone Press, (1993) 1992. 

3. For a more complete account of Baudrillard’s critique of production, see his 
Mirror of Production, trans. Mark Poster (St. Louis, 1975); for a fuller discussion 
of production/seduction, see his recent Seduction, tr. Brian Singer, New York, St. 
Martiin’s Press, (1979) 1990. [Translator’s note] 

6. Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, 1: The Will to Knowledge (vol 1), tr. 
Robert Hurley, New York, Pantheon, (1976) 1980. 

7. See Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy 
of Biology, trans. Austryn Wainhouse (New York, 1971). [Translator’s note] 


Jean Baudriilard / 67 




FORGET BAUDRILLARD 

An Interview with Sylvere Lotringer 


“As in judo, the best answer to an adversary maneuver 
is not to retreat, but to go along with it, turning it to one’s 
own advantage, as a resting point for the next phase.” 


— Michel Foucault 



1 


The Ends of History □ Hyperreality □ Nihilism and Disenchant- 
ment □ Neutralizing Desire □ Appearance and Disappearance □ 
Sexuality and Obscenity □ Foucault: Genealogy and Simulation □ 
Desire and Seduction □ Metaphor and Metamorphosis □ The 
Disappearance of of the Subject □ The Giddiness of Chance □ 
Panic and Information 


Sylvere Lotringer: Let's begin at the end or ; rather ; at the ends: the 
end of production the end of history, the end of the political. Your 
reflections begin with a series of liquidations. Has the time come to put 
Western civilization in the wax museum ? Is everything now for sale ? 

Jean Baudrillard: I don’t know if it’s a question of an “end.” The 
word is probably meaningless in any case, because we’re no longer 
so sure that there is such a thing as linearity. I would prefer to 
begin, even if it sounds a little like science fiction, with a quotation 
from Die Provinz des Menschen (The Human Province), a recent 
book by Elias Canetti . 1 It is possible, he says — and he finds the idea 
rather painful — that starting from a precise moment in time the 
human race has dropped out of history. Without even being conscious 


71 



of the change, we suddenly left reality behind. What wc have to do 
now, continues Canetti, would be to find that critical point, that 
blind spot in time. Otherwise, we just continue on with our self- 
destructive ways. This hypothesis appeals to me because Canetti 
doesn’t envisage an end, but rather what I would hall an “ecstasy,” 
in the primal sense of that word — a passage at the same time into 
the dissolution and the transcendence of a form. 

History survives its disappearance , but somewhere its spirit got 
snatched away . . . 

History isn’t over, it is in a state of simulation, like a body that’s 
kept in a state of hibernation. In this irreversible coma everything 
continues to function all the same, and eventually can even seem to 
amount to history. And then, surreptitiously (as Canetti has it), it’s 
possible that everything is no longer real or true. In any case we 
would no longer be in a position to decide on that. 

The “end” you’re talking about would be the end of all finalities — 
together with an exacerbated. [ empty parody of their resurgence. 

There is no end in the sense that God is dead, or history is dead. I 
would prefer not to play the role of the lugubrious, thoroughly use- 
less prophet. It is not a tragic event, something highly charged with 
emotion, something that you could mourn — for there would still 
be something to be done about it. Suddenly, there is a curve in the 
road, a turning point. Somewhere, the real scene has been lost, the 
scene where you had rules for the game and some solid stakes that 
everybody could rely on. 


72 / Foraet Baudrillard 



How did that happen ? Has this really happened ? 


That’s fiction. History has stopped meaning, referring to anything — 
whether you call it social space or the real. We have passed into a 
kind of hyper-real where things are being replayed ad infinitum. 

Traditional societies had no history but they had a mythology; were 
discovering now that history may have been our own mythology. If we 
can cease believing in history ; then maybe history had more to do with 
faith than fact. 

But then, what does it mean “to believe?” That would mean main- 
taining some kind of subjectivity as a criterion of the validity of 
things. Now if credibility alone is what gives things meaning, then 
were bound to remain trapped in the imaginary. 

What interests me instead (but can you still call this history?) is 
the possibility of a pure event, an event that can no longer be manip- 
ulated, interpreted, or deciphered by any historical subjectivity. 


Can individual subjectivity be totally short-circuited by the event ? 


The problematic of the subject implies that reality can still be rep- 
resented, that things give off signs guaranteeing their existence and 
significance — in short, that there is a reality principle. All of that is 
now collapsing with the dissolution of the subject. This is the well- 
known “crisis of representation.” But just because this system of 
values is coming apart — the system which also supported the polit- 
ical and theatrical scenes — that doesn’t mean we are being left in a 
complete void. On the contrary, we are confronted with a more 
radical situation. 


Jean Baudrillard / 73 



The tabula rasa brings out tendencies latent in the culture . It clears 
the ground. But there is a high price to pay in terms of emptiness 
and disenchantment. There you hate all the seduction y and the sadness , 
of nihilism. 

It is true that logic only leads to disenchantment. We cant avoid 
going a long way with negativity, with nihilism and all. But then 
don’t you think a more exciting world opens up? Not a more reas- 
suring world, but certainly more thrilling, a world where the name 
of the game remains secret. A world ruled by reversibility and 
indetermination. . . 

That's certainly radical; it leaves no roots. 

Radicality is not a more sublime virtue of theory. It means isolating 
in things whatever allows for interpretation, whatever overburdens 
them with meaning. I don’t derive any malicious pleasure from this 
analysis; still, it gives me a curious sense of giddiness... 

But who's there to feel giddy? To exult in one's own disappearance is still 
another ; more paradoxical [ paroxysmal form of subjectivity. What's left 
once you've liquidated that overload of meaning? 

What remains is a good deal less than one would like to admit. 
Every system of value — in terms of energy, for example — seems to 
be crumbling down. 

You settled your score with Marx in The Mirror of Production 2 . Why 
haven't you written a Mirror of Desire to have done with the judg- 
ment of Freud? 


74 / Forget Baudri!!ard 



I cant bring myself to write something on psychoanalysis. It 
would be useless to attack frontally its ideology or proclaim its 
demise. You have to allow desire to catch itself in its own trap. 

Desire was caught from the start. That's the reactive side of any theo- 
ry. You can only reveal a phenomenon if it is already disappearing. 
Where is hysteria now ? Nowhere and everywhere. Often the pyramid 
of concepts is piled up sky high on top of an empty tomb. 

It is always the same sign that controls appearance and disappear- 
ance. It presides over both. In the meantime, you’re left to your 
own devices. There may be events, there may be a history... 

The history of sexuality, for example. 

Sexuality has gone weightless. It is now reaching the state of 
“obscenity.” But everyone conspires to mask its disappearance by 
setting up trompe l’oeil stage decors . 3 

Psychoanalysis pretends to cure sexual neurosis , while it keeps on 
injecting it with a semblance of reality. Although far removed from 
the Freudian point of view, Foucault still participates in that nos- 
talgic effect of theory. After all \ paying so much attention to the 
genealogy of sexuality accredits the idea that it is still a space to be 
occupied. But it is more like Grand Central Station... 

I don’t see the point of retracing the genealogy of sexuality. It’s so 
true, so undeniable that there is nothing to say about it. 


Jean Baudrillard / 75 



American sexuality is more Foucauldian than Foucault \ In sex clinics 
here , masturbation has become a categorical imperative if you want to 
reach a synthetic genitality. Your position with respect to Foucault is of 
the same order. Foucault wrote the archeology of things; you take them 
to the point of their cryogenicization. In The Order of the simulacra, 
though your approach was pretty close to his . . . 

You’re talking about the three orders? I could have made a book 
out of it, others rushed in to find examples. As for myself, with- 
out denying it, I don’t believe it holds up. For a time I believed in 
Foucauldian genealogy, but the order of simulation is antinomical 
to genealogy. 

An anti-genealogy then ? 

No. If you take this logic to the extreme, what you get is the reab- 
sorption of all genealogy. That’s why I believe Foucault was unable 
to make the leap. What interests me is the mysterious point where 
he stops and finds nothing more to say. 

You keep criss-crossing Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattans path, 
breaking away from representation, rejecting dialectics , dismissing 
meaning and metaphor : 4 You part company with them on the terrain 
of subjectivity: they put the subject in flux y you abolish it. They make 
desire the basis of becoming; you see becoming as annihilating desire. 

I couldn’t care less about desire. I neither want to abolish it nor 
to take it into consideration. I wouldn’t know where to put it 
anymore. 


76 / Forget Baudrillard 



That s no surprise . You derive your own energy from the collapse of val- 
ues. To make desire itself the basis of the system becomes redundant. 

What bothers me about desire is the idea of an energy at the source 
of all these fluxes. Is desire really involved? In my opinion, it has 
nothing to do with it. 

Well them what does ? 

Earlier on you mentioned disenchantment. The other, enchanting 
aspect, for me, is no longer desire, that is clear. It is seduction. 
Things make events all by themselves, without any mediation, by a 
sort of instant commutation. There is no longer any metaphor, 
rather metamorphosis. Metamorphosis abolishes metaphor, which 
is the mode of language, the possibility of communicating mean- 
ing. Metamorphosis is at the radical point of the system, the point 
where there is no longer any law or symbolic order. It is a process 
without any subject, without death, beyond any desire, in which 
only the rules of the game of forms are involved. Among other 
things, what psychoanalysis has to say about mythology is an abuse 
of metaphorical language. 

And what would correspond to that mythology in the order of meta- 
morphosis? 

The possibility of transmutation: becoming-animal, becoming- 
woman. What Gilles Deleuze says about it seemed to me to fit 
perfectly . 5 

Love is no longer considered as a dependence of desire upon a 
lack, but in the unconscious form of the transformation into the 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 77 



other. In that metamorphic unconscious nothing is repressed. The 
metaphor is by-passed. Conversely, in metastasis — the prolifera- 
tion of bodies, obesity, cancer — there again, unfortunately, the 
subject no longer exists. There is no more language. Metaphor is 
no longer possible. 

And what do you see taking shape with the disappearance of subjectivity? 

Something rather paradoxical. There are three modes of disappear- 
ance. Either the subject disappears in the cloning system, 
eliminating death. That has no charm. It is too much like an exter- 
mination which is the proliferating metastatic form of the 
disappearance of the other. Or, you could have disappearance as 
death, which is the metaphorical form of the subject. Or else, dis- 
appearance as a game, the art of disappearance. 

Alongside these modes of disappearance , the mechanical (cloning ) , 
organic (death ) , and ritual (game) forms , why not conceive of a more 
lively way of disappearing? The possibility of assuming roles without 
identifying with them. One agrees to disappear ; but in order to reap- 
pear somewhere else, where one is not expected. 

I conceive of that disappearance abstractly, with Deleuze, as a flux, 
but also as an absolute transparency. It is the loss of the real, the 
absolute distance of the real. One can no longer touch things. 

The only form of the real that remains , as I see it y is a shifting between 
things. Otherwise you are paralyzed — or vaporized. Paralysis is the 
panicky plea for identity. It’s neurosis: wearing yourself out trying to 
pour into concrete what is slipping away in all directions. Evaporation 


78 / Forget Baudrillard 



is chloroform, or ether Disappearing without a trace . It chills you to 
the bone; it puts you to sleep, too . 

It’s possible that in places like New York people can remain in a 
kind of positive, happy fluidity, a state of trans-pearing. But most 
people experience it as a kind of liquid terror. 


Is it worth abdicating all subjectivity in order to protect ourselves 
from terror ? 


Were no longer in systems of real accomplishment; today they are 
necessarily potential, with the added bonus of risk, panic. The de- 
subjectification of things. 


What's there to risk if all subjectivity is being extinguished ? 


We’re condemned to effects of giddiness — in all the electronic 
games as well. There’s no more pleasure, no more interest, but a 
kind of dizziness induced by the connections, the switching opera- 
tions in which the subject gets lost. You manipulate all you want, 
without any objective, with the effect of aleatory giddiness of the 
potential systems where anything can happen. 


You prefer panic to terror. 

Panic doesn’t have to be unhappy. I see it as ecstasy. It’s just a mode 
of propagation by contiguity, like contagion, only faster — the 
ancient principle of metamorphosis, going from one form to 
another without passing through a system of meaning. This 
process of effects in the absence of causes is a form of extraordinary 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 79 



expansion. The “speed” that Virilio talks about is an effect of panic 
with respect to movement . 6 

A giddiness effect. Panic can also be the inflation of the event 
by the news media. All the communication theories have to be 
revised, including my own, which is still too meaningful. People no 
longer seek to appropriate things, or even destroy them. Batailles 
“devils share” was still part of the ultimate romanticism of politi- 
cal economy. Now it’s something else . 7 


80 / Forget Baudrsllard 



2 


Death and Metastasis □ The Giddiness of Theory □ Desire and 
Culture □ “Objective” Necessity □ Sociology and Metaphysics □ 
The End of the Social □ Symbolic Exchange and Destiny □ The 
Fatal Between Chance and Necessity □ Movement and Speed □ 
The Ecstasy of Capital □ Gambling as Extermination of Value □ 
Statistics and Fate □ Objective Chance without the Unconscious □ 
The Chain of Appearances 


Sylvere Lotringer: What do you make of death? Of the three modes of 
disappearance, ids clearly the one you are least interested in. It doesnt 
disappear for all that... 

Jean Baudrillard: Death has passed into either the history of meta- 
morphoses or into metastatic history. I found an article by Franz 
Bader, a German writer from the early 19th century, entitled “On 
Ecstasy as Metastasis.” For him ecstasy is the anticipation of death, 
a passage into the metastatic state of the living subject. Death is 
replaced by the passage of this point of inertia. 


81 



Every time I meet William Burroughs y I feel Im in the presence of a 
fiesty corpse. As a living person he seems rather bored. I asked him if 
he would go to the moon. “Of course,” he replied. “Ed go anywhere; 
Ed leave the solar system if they came to get me in a flying saucer. ” 
“Even if there is no coming back?” I asked. He looked at me. “Why 
come back?” 

I experienced the same feeling of no return during a trip to the 
United States a few years ago. It was a real shock. I had the revela- 
tion that I was entering the period of the rest of my life from 
another point of view, in a state of complete irony with respect to 
what had gone before. When there is no fundamental passion, 
when life or love disappears, there is no longer any possibility of a 
multiplicity of modalities, with respect to love or existence. It’s an 
extra helping, a little bit ecstatic, a little bit residual, but also pro- 
foundly melancholic. Death is an event that has always already 
taken place. 

Eve often wondered how one could live theories like yours. 

I got into it fairly late. For a long time, I was very “cool” about pro- 
ducing theories. Of course there had to be an obsession behind it, 
but I didn’t think it had very much to do with anything. It was a 
kind of game. I could write about death without it having any 
influence whatsoever on my life. When someone asked me, “What 
can we do with this? What are you really analyzing?” I took it very 
lightly, with great calm. 

You felt it had more to do with culture? 


82 / Forget Baud ri I lard 



I’d always kept my distance fiom culture — as well as from theory. I 
maintained a position of distrust and rejection. That’s the only 
“radicalness” I can claim. It might have something to do with my 
old pataphysical training: I don’t want culture; I spit on it. If a the- 
ory really becomes part of it, for me it’s unspeakable. Several years 
ago, all that changed. Somewhere along the line I stopped living, 
in Canetti’s sense. 

Something came unstuck. 

The giddiness I’m talking about ended up taking hold of me. 

A logical giddiness. 

Yes. I stopped working on simulation. I felt I was going totally 
nuts. Finally, by various paths, all this came to have extremely 
direct consequences on my life. It seemed logical that something 
would happen, an event of this kind — but I began to wonder what 
theory had to do with all this. There is in theories something that 
does away with the feeling of being “unstuck” But what theory 
brings back on the other hand, to reaccentuate it, pervert it — in the 
full sense of the word — I’d rather not know about. 

You spoke a bit earlier about the art of disappearance. 

Disappearance is something completely different from death. 
Dying doesn’t do any good, you still have to disappear. It is a mode 
assimilated to that of seduction. The death of meaning is not 
interesting in itself. 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 83 



Behaviorism puts an end to meaning. It does it more radically than we do. 

There meaning is truly erased, but it doesn’t disappear. Pragmatism 
is the same as simulation pushed to the limit. Simulation puts an 
end to meaning absolutely, in its neutralizing, undifferentiated 
form. But it does it without prestige, without charm, without plea- 
sure, without any of the effects of disappearance which are the best 
we can afford today. 

You rediscover desire in charm. Something of desire would have to 
remainy otherwise... 

I only resented desire in the cultural acceptance it gained. Actually 
desire is a term that managed to get out of the test of reality — if 
you’ll pardon the expression — while still retaining a certain poetic 
density. It wasn’t killed, it remains — on condition that it stays out 
of the libidinal. 

Ids desire as seduction. 

In seduction, all the energy that you gathered for yourself is turned 
over to the object. Objective necessity occurs — an absolute surprise 
which takes away the effectiveness of the subject. 

Exchange exerts a similar effect, but the subject's disappearance is of a 
statistical order. It melts into “the masses, " which are conceived as an 
infinite commutation of individual clones — the mass as circulation, 
not immobility or assembly, of coursed 

Neutralization is a statistical fiction, a sociologist's point of view 
reporting the existence of a flat encephalogram on the level of culture. 


84 / Forget Baudrillard 



Well, let’s be frank here. If I ever dabbled in anything in my theo- 
retical infancy, it was philosophy more than sociology. I don’t think 
at all in those terms. My point of view is completely metaphysical. 
If anything, I’m a metaphysician, perhaps a moralist, but certainly 
not a sociologist. The only “sociological” work I can claim is my 
effort to put an end to the social, to the concept of the social . 9 

You proclaimed the end of the social, I guess, by contrast with another 
more archaic form, which Marcel Mauss defined as the u total social 
fact.” What does that symbolic, or agonistic exchange of traditional 
societies mean to you now? Do you still believe it has a bearing on post- 
industrial societies ? 10 

Actually in traditional societies exchange is absent. Symbolic 
exchange is the opposite of exchange. The term is rather deceptive. 
There is an order of exchange and an order of fate. The only means 
of exorcising fate is through exchange; in other words, through a 
contractual agreement. Where exchange is not possible, fate takes 
over. In the case of the hostage, whenever exchange becomes 
impossible, you move into the order of the fatal, of the catastrophe. 
There is a dual reversibility, an agonistic challenge. 

Negotiation is no longer possible. From there on, anything can happen. 

I call symbolic exchange fatal: I am led to it by chance. Fate is in 
the dividing line separating chance and necessity, to use Jacques 
Monod’s terms . 11 

Neither one wipes out the order of events. One — necessity — is 
based on an order of causes, of finality, a system of values which is 
that of metaphysics. The other — chance — is based on an objective 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 85 



by an undetermined and erratic order. What I wanted to define 
with the “fatal” order is an objective order, but of the highest neces- 
sity. The question of finality no longer applies. An event — or a 
being, or a word — resolves all efforts at explanation; it imposes 
itself with a force which is no longer of the final or causal order. It 
is more final than final: it is fatal. 

The way speed is more mobile than movement — its pure form y inde- 
pendent of any destination. 

Yes, speed is the ecstatic form of movement. In ecstasy, there is no 
* 

longer any stage — no more scene, no more theatre. But there is no 
more passion either. It is intense, but dispassionate. It can carry a 
charge of seductiveness, for seduction is an ecstatic form. The fatal 
is ecstasy in the form of an event, in the same way that free-float- 
ing capital is an ecstatic form of the circulation of money. They no 
longer bear any relationship to production. 

It is the extreme form of the logic of capital 

The ecstatic form of capital is totally generalized exchange. An 
orbital form. In merchandise, money is already in process of de- 
referentialization. It is the transpoliticized form of merchandise. 
Look at what happens in the movement of money — money no 
longer bears any relationship to value, even in the sense in which 
Bataille uses the term (in order for there to be something “spent,” 
one must still believe in value). That is what gives rise to intense 
miraculous effects of multiplication. The secret of gambling is that 
money does not exist as a value. 


86 / Forget Baudrillard 



But value returns after the fact: it's what you have to pity if you lose. 

Afterward, you commit suicide. But in the heat of the rnoment, the 
idea of winning or losing is relatively unimportant compared to the 
seductive sequence of events. 

Gambling is the ecstatic form of money. 

Gambling isn’t exactly a passion: the pleasure one derives from it is 
too crystalline. It is a cold ecstasy which deals with money not as 
meaning, value, depth or substance, but in the pure form of 
appearance or disappearance. 

Its a form of imminence. 

Yes, but there’s nothing behind it. It’s the imminence of itself. 
Gambling is an organized catastrophic, apparitional form — a total 
metamorphosis. 

It's a game with a subject. This would explain the fascination it 
holds: to gamble is to forget yourself. The extreme form of neurosis — 
and its annulment. 

Gambling is a game, a challenge. There is no gambling subject: the 
transubstantiation is complete. It’s pure seduction. It comes from 
elsewhere. In theory gambling is without consequence. This is why 
it’s so easy to condemn the “immorality” of gambling. Gambling is 
immoral. It bears no relation to the reality of money. 

It feeds on itself. 


BaudriHard / Lotringer / 87 



It’s the passion of arriving at a given object: money, in this case 
and managing to completely disconnect it, to discover its means of 
appearing. I didn’t say its means of production; we know that only 
too well, and it’s no fun. Wherever you can find the possibility of 
pure appearances, you are once again in the game. It’s in this sense 
that I no longer situate myself in the irreversible order of annihila- 
tion. The possibility of returning to a level of metamorphosis or 
seduction cannot be lost. There’s only fate. 

But first this has to pass through a rage to destroy, to exterminate 
everything. 

There has to be extermination. In the final account, it’s extremely 
rare that something can get out of the chain of cause and effect to 
fully appear. It is the ephemeral moment in which things take the 
time to appear before taking on meaning or value. What is fasci- 
nating then — what makes that moment an event — is that a mode 
of sociality can be created which is not the mode of exchange but 
occurrence of pure events. The statistical occurrence, on the con- 
trary, is flat, numerical, without sequence. It is nothing but 
contiguity and measurement. We live in a world that is very loose, 
quite lax, in which things are more or less arbitrary, disconnected 
and therefore sporadic, erratic. The order of the fatal, on the other 
hand, is the site of symbolic exchange. There is no more liberty, 
everything is locked in a sequential chain. 

That was already the case with the primitive ceremonial. 

I don’t exclude rituals and ceremonies. Whatever reaches the level 
of pure appearance — a person, an event, an act — enters the realm 


88 / Forget Baudrillard 



of the fatal. It cannot be deciphered or interpreted. The subject has 
nothing to say about it. Events emerge from any and every place, 
but from an absolute beyond, with that true strangeness which 
alone is fascinating. It belongs neither to the order of the normal 
nor to the accidental. It is a necessity greater than the law, some- 
thing like objective chance without any effect of the unconscious, 
whose fate would be repressed. 

A successful event leaves nothing behind it. 

In the finalities that one can assign oneself, values are always rela- 
tive. They must be invested. They are necessary, but subjectively. 
For example, the fetishistic object topples the subject’s need to 
place itself in the transcendental center of the world. On the con- 
trary, at any given moment the universe has the possibility of 
incarnating itself in a detail which is unjustifiable in its own 
right. The universal no longer exists, there is nothing left but a 
singularity which can take on the aspect of totality. 

Singularities y in the Hegelian sense y have a particularity and a uni- 
versal aspect. They are moments. 

Yes, whereas now singularities very likely no longer have any uni- 
versal becoming. The universal is a game preserve, it is the site of 
that indifferent strategy. It cannot be assigned an end, a reason, a 
meaning. It is total crystallization around an event. 

Deleuze dealt with this problematic in Logic of Sense . 12 But for him y 
the logic of appearanceSy the play of surfaces does not abolish subjectivity. 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 89 



For me events are no longer those of the subject; they reach a point 
where they function all by themselves. It is a pure connection of 
events in a logic of appearances, if you like, which meets seduction. 
The order of seductive connections stands in opposition to rational 
connections, whatever they may be, and also to delirious connec- 
tions, and possibly to molecular ones. It is not an order of the 
accidental; an accident does not fascinate me in that sense. The cat- 
astrophe does not fascinate me as an accident, it fascinates me as a 
necessity. That appearances function all by themselves is based on 
a necessity much more implacable than the chain of causes which 
is for its part relatively arbitrary, as is the connection of the signifier 
and the signified. The connection, the chain of appearances are 
signs that do not, in fact, make sense. There is a rule to the game. 


90 / Forget Baudrillard 



3 


Law and Rules □ Crisis, Catastrophe □ Poetry □ A Sign is as 
Good as the Thing Itself □ Femininity, Childhood □ “Strategy” 
of the Fatal □ The Principle of Evil □ Model and Truth □ Beyond 
Esthetic Judgement □ Fashion, Politics □ The Ecstacy of Forms □ 
The Media Doesn’t Mystify □ Beau Brummel □ Power/Knowledge/ 
Will □ Revolution, Devolution □ May ’68, an Inconsequential Event. 


Sylvere Lotringer: Is the fatal the fulfillment of an empty rule ? 

Jean Baudrillard: A rule can be perfectly arbitrary in its enunciation, 
but it is much more unbreakable than the “law,” which can be trans- 
gressed. You can do anything with the law. With the rule, on the other 
hand, either you play or you don’t play. If you play, the rule is implaca- 
ble. You can’t get around it. It would be idiotic to transgress it. The rule 
of the game — the seductive sequence — is played in an extremely cer- 
emonialized fashion. Situations can be replayed indefinitely, the “rule” 
does not change. But it is secret, never known, never spoken. If it were 
known, things would become visible and reversible again. With causal 
or rational sequences, you have crisis. With seductive sequences, on 
the contrary, you are — literally — in a catastrophic order. 


91 



That’s the logic of the avalanche . 


Forms that are beyond judgment have a much greater power of fas- 
cination, but they are for that same reason terribly dangerous for 
any order whatsoever. They can no longer be controlled. At any 
given moment a category or a form stops representing itself, it no 
longer enters the stage of representation, it no longer functions 
according to its end. It doubles back upon itself, taking a curve so 
rapid that it reaches a kind of potentialization. All the rest goes into 
a state of weightlessness. In the language of poetry we are familiar 
with those sequences in which things seem to take place without 
continuity, without consequence, without mediation. Language is 
always an order of seduction to the extent that it is a mutant order. 
If you suppose continuous, progressive, linear order then it is still 
based on a mutational “superstructure.” Words in a poem are of 
that order. They do not go through meaning. One word calls forth 
another in a catastrophe of charm. One leads to another in a 
thoughtless, unintelligible way. I am not seeking the irrational. On 
the contrary, we know that there is a necessity without its being 
transcendental or providential. The same thing can take place in 
the order of facts, of actions, of existential situations. 

It is ritual without the sacred [ the tragic without the tragedy. 

It is not a sacred universe, even though there is indeed a tragic 
aspect in seduction. If you accept the rule of the game, you can 
never know in advance to what degree of concatenation of appear- 
ances a strategy may lead. Take, for example, the story of the 
woman to whom a man sends an ardent love letter. She asks him 
what part of her seduced him the most. What else can he answer? 


92 / Forgot Ddu jrlll ird 



Her eyes, of course. And he leceives in the mail, wrapped in brown 
paper, the womans eye. The man is shattered, destroyed. The 
woman sets herself as the destiny of the other. Literalizing the 
metaphor, she abolishes the symbolic order. The sign becomes the 
thing. The subject is caught in the trap of his own desire. She loses 
an eye, he loses face. 

In On Seduction you took another metaphor literally y that of the 
woman object I 3 It meant (in appearance at least) taking feminism 
against the grain , with y I believe , unexpected potentializations. 

I consider woman the absence of desire. It is of little import 
whether or not that corresponds to real women. It is my concep- 
tion of “femininity.” 

Isn't it surprising that in the midst of metamorphoses, the feminine fig- 

r 

ure for you remains fixed. That's very nostalgic y that polarity of roles. 

But I don’t believe in it. For me, femininity is non-polar. Contrary 
to masculinity, woman has no anxious focalization on sex, she can 
transform herself into herself. 

That means becoming-woman is something that can occur in women 
or in men. 

Of course. Femininity appears in certain individuals, men or 
women. But woman is the object which plays out all the liquidi- 
ties of desire. The drama of love is entirely in men, that of charm 
completely in women. 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 93 



Speaking of love y you replace intersubjectivity with a reciprocal 
transformation. A passage into the other ; but an other which is no 
longer there. 

That is the problem of otherness. As in the world, or on the terrain 
of sex, no one is the other of the other sex any longer. It is not nar- 
cissism, which is a concretion accomplished in solitude; not 
otherness either. Each one functions within his/her own nebula, 
accomplishing his/her own virtuality. 

If I understandy the process of becoming-woman common to both sexes 
is the accomplishment of each one as a separate object. Their recipro- 
cal challenge is to become more woman than woman , in a wordy to 
attain that femininity which each one can attain only in relationship 
to himselflherself. 

I think here of the strategic position of the process of becoming- 
object. What interests me now is no longer the subject but the 
object and its destiny. You become the destiny of the other. It is 
clearer when you think of childhood. The child always has a dou- 
ble strategy. He has the possibility of offering himself as object, 
protected, recognized, geared as a child to the pedagogical func- 
tion; and at the same time he is fighting on equal terms. At some 
level the child knows that he is not a child, but the adult does not 
know that. That is the secret. 

That's what is fueling the hysterical campaign against “ child 
abuse.” Adults panic in the face of the extermination of childhoody 
which on the other handy they are encouraging. Childhood consti- 
tutes the last anchor of our culture. If childhood were lost y what 


94 / Forget Baudrillard 



would morality be based on? The social repression of “child moles- 
ters ” is all the more ferocious, 14 

The problem is that everything has been unleashed on childhood. 
There has been quite a “palingenesis” on childhood, no psychoan- 
alytic joke intended; now there it has been taken seriously. The 
category of childhood is defined historically, and there psychology 
begins: child psychology, therapy, pedagogy, it all follows. If, going 
against every assumption, you maintain the little utopian fact that 
childhood does not exist and that the child is perhaps the only one 
to know it, then everything blows up in your face. That is what I 
was trying to say about women. Women, children, animals — we 
must not be afraid of assimilations — do not just have a subject- 
consciousness, they have a kind of objective ironic presentiment 
that the category into which they have been placed does not exist. 
Which allows them at any given moment to make use of a double 
strategy. It isn t psychology, its strategy. 

When you speak of the strategy of the fatal, what interests me most is 
the strategy : What is to be done ? 

No, it’s completely antinomical. It’s not really strategy. That’s a play 
on words to dramatize the total passage from the subject to the 
object. Whether you call it the revenge of the object, or the Evil 
Genius of matter, it is not representable. But it is a power all the 
same. In fact, I would go along with calling it the principle of Evil, 
of irreconciliation, the way the Good is the principle of reconcilia- 
tion. That exists, it is inextricable, it cannot be destroyed. 


Bautirillartl / Lotringer / 95 



Can you still invoke a strategy to account for situations in which the 
subject has no place ? 

Only an “objective” strategy that no one could recognize. What I 
foresee is a transposition of all forms and the impossibility of any 
politics. There is something like a threshold of inertia. Beyond 
that, forms snowball, terror is unleashed as an empty form. 

Panic. 

Right. Its the other form of the ecstatic, its catastrophic form, in 
the almost neutral sense of the term, in its mathematical extension. 
It is a completely alien response of the object world to the subject 
world, of a completely external destiny which occurs with an 
absolute surprise and whose symbolic wave strikes the human 
world. 

You see several sides to ecstasy ? 

I see two. Take a model. Its ecstatic side is to be truer than the 
truth; it creates a kind of giddiness, a kind of inflation of truth. A 
model is a rather pathetic thing. But take fashion for example. 
Fashion participates in this phenomenon absolutely. It doesn’t 
depend on any sort of esthetic judgment. Its not the beautiful 
opposed to the ugly, its whats more beautiful than the beautiful. 
The obese — that famous fat American — is not opposed to the skin- 
ny one. He is fatter than fat, and that is fascinating. Fashion is the 
absolute formalization of the beautiful. It functions by means of 
the unconditional transmutation of forms. Ecstatic forms can be 
static and cold; sometimes they can be more enchanting, warmer. 


96 / Forget Baud ri I lard 



Theie is a splendor of fashion, and, behind it, an uncontrollable 
rule of the game. A rule which conveys the objective irony of fash- 
ion. Everything that can be invented deliberately falls flat on its 
face, and its something else that catches on instead. 

Can fashion serve as a model for politics ? 

Fashion has always been at odds with politics and scorned by poli- 
tics. But you cannot politically oppose fashion to politics. Fashion 
is a splendid form of metamorphosis. It is both a ritual and a cere- 
mony. It cant be programmed. 

Could happy, ecstatic political forms be conceived of 

Its rather difficult to sort out happy and unhappy forms. Seduc- 
tion, like fashion, is* a happy form, beyond the beauty of desire: “I 
am not beautiful, I am worse.” Seduction uses signs which are 
already simulators to make them into the falser than false. It dis- 
places them, turns them into traps and produces a splendid effect 
snatched from the imperative of veracity of signs, and even of 
desire, which is no longer at stake. 

Must all political rituals necessarily be programmed ? 

Politics functioned in terms of distinctive oppositions: the left or 
the right. As in other areas you have the true or the false, the beau- 
tiful or the ugly, etc. Now, at a given point the energy of a situation 
stopped depending on this kind of dissociation. It is no longer the 
dialectic of the two terms that organizes things, but the fact that 
the forms each go their separate ways, meaninglessly, senselessly. It 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 97 



is the truer than true, or the falser than false. A form shoots off 
in a kind of relentless logic, uncalculated, without any history, 
without any memory, the way cancer cells go off in an organic 
direction. That logic seems to me more interesting because it does 
after all correspond more to the way things are evolving nowadays. 

Where do you see that logic at work in the political field right now ? In 
the media ? 

The media are supposed to be a fabulous distortion. But behind that 
analysis still lurks a symbolic demand for truth. Where does that dis- 
tortion come from? Placing the media in the system of 
will — choice — liberty is really hopeless. All you can do is invoke a 
total alienation of the political subject, accuse the power structure of 
manipulating, etc. The power structure doesn’t manipulate TV, it 
functions exactly the way it does. It relies on representations, it also 
secretes them with the scant political relief of a TV image, without 
accuracy or energy, to the point of merging with the civil society in 
the indistinction of the political scene. Meaning manages to disap- 
pear in the horizon of communication. The media are simply the 
locus of this disappearance, which is always a challenge to the pow- 
ers that be. It’s becoming urgent to reformulate a theory of the media 
as “agents provocateurs” of information overload, turning political 
debate into a gigantic abyss. Let’s get rid of the notion that the media 
mystify and alienate. We’ve had enough of that. 

The theory of alienation has become the echo necessary to the media for 
their existence. It amounts indirectly to giving them the benefit of an 
intention. They dont deserve that. 


98 / Forget Baudrillard 



You re right. In the transpolitical, there is no more who. Then if it 
isn’t the power structure, which seems pretty clear, if there is no 
longer a subject, is there a strategy of the object, objective irony? 

The media industry never does anything but reproduce its own necessity. 
As William Burroughs says it plainly enough: all things considered [ the 
public could get along very well without the news. 

There you have it. All that is done now is to display a range of 
choices which are all equally potential or fulfilled. Have you heard 
this story about Beau Brummel? He traveled a great deal, always in 
the company of his manservant. One day he was in Scotland, in a 
region where there are many lakes, each one more beautiful than the 
other. Brummel turned to his servant and asked him, “Which lake 
do I prefer?” Having to choose is really a bore. That’s what servants 
are for. In any case, that’s not what counts. Power — Knowledge — 
Will — let the inventors of those ideas take responsibility for them. It 
makes perfect sense to me that the great masses, very snobbishly, 
delegate to the class of intellectuals, of politicians, this business of 
managing, of choosing, of knowing what one wants. They are 
joyously dumping all those burdensome categories that no one, deep 
down inside, really wants any part of. That people want to be told 
what they want is certainly not true; it is not clear either that they 
really want to know what they want, or that they desire to want at 
all. The whole edifice of socialism is based on that assumption. They 
start from the fact that this is what people ought to want, that they 
are social in the sense that they are supposed to know themselves, 
know what they want. I think we have pressed beyond that point, 
beyond truth, beyond reality. 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 99 



Objective irony, that would be the masses offhand way of getting rid 
of their responsibilities , turning power back to its fantasies , knowl- 
edge to its obsessions, will to its illusions. The silent majority, as you 
see it then, is not the accomplice of law and order, but rather its 
silence is a dead silence. The masses are playing dead. And this stub- 
born silence, this insolent reserve, would sanction the disappearance 
of the social. 

Exactly. Large systems of information relieve the masses of the 
responsibility of having to know, to understand, to be informed, 
to be up on things. Advertising relieves people of the responsibil- 
ity of having to choose, which is perfectly human and perfectly 
horrible. As for power, it has always seemed ironic to me to dele- 
gate it to people. That’s like catching them in a trap, and that trap 
closes on the political class itself. I see all of this as a profound 
reversal of strategy on the part of the masses. They are no longer 
involved in a process of subversion or revolution, but in some 
gigantic devolution from an unwanted liberty — with some evil 
genius lurking behind it all. I think we are beginning to realize 
how much terror lies at the heart of the paradise of communica- 
tion. Beyond that, events are inconsequential, and that is even 
more true for theories. 

But there is power in the fact of being inconsequential. 

That was what interested me about May ’68. Behind the political, 
revolutionary, and historical scene, and also behind the failure, 
there was the power of an event which managed to absorb its own 
continuity. It makes it implode, succeeds in swallowing its own 
energy and disappearing. 


100 / Forget Baudrillard 



May \ 68 swept down on France like an avalanche y and no sooner 
had it appeared than it disappeared [ mysteriously ; practically without 
a trace. 

Then where has all that energy gone? Nowhere — certainly not into 
socialism in any case. It must have been reabsorbed somewhere — 
without necessarily remaining underground so as to emerge later. 
For me May ’68 was the first event that corresponded to this iner- 
tial point of the political scene. Continuity disappears. Only such 
things are fascinating. 


Baudriiiard / Lotringer / 101 



4 


Going to Extremes □ The Scenario of Deterrence □ Terrorism 
and Hyperreality □ The Impossible War □ Fascism and Trans- 
politics □ May ’68 □ Two Forms of Secret □ The Ecstasy of 
Socialism □ The Story of Sophie Calle □ Ends, Means □ Power 
Doesn’t Exist □ God’s Strategy □ Italy in Political Simulation □ 
The Challenge to the Social 


Sylvere Lotringer: Comprehension is no longer involved there. 

Jean Baudrillard: No. But more comprehension is going to be re- 
secreted. It is intolerable for everybody that events should be incon- 
sequential, or that their own desires, should be inconsequential. 
And, in the last analysis, that theory should be inconsequential. No 
exceptions allowed. 

All of that is part of what Paul Virilio calls “the aesthetic of disappearance. ” 15 

From time to time theory allows itself beautiful effects of disap- 
pearance. What more can one do? In terms of results there is no 
difference between what came to an end with May ’68 and whatever 


103 



Giscard d’Estaing or Mitterand accomplished. Acceleradon per 
mits another kind of disappearance effect, another order that cant 
be reached in any other way. Therefore, I agree with Paul Virilio on 
the idea of theory going to extremes. You will ask me, why are peo- 
ple going to those extremes, if you don’t suppose that at some point 
the world, and the universe, too, is in the grips of a movement to 
extremes. There you are, apparently, forced to make an almost 
objective, rational hypothesis. It is impossible to think that theory 
can be nothing more than fiction. Otherwise no one would bother 
producing theory any more. You have to believe that going some- 
where is not just a metaphor. And then, if it is a challenge, in any 
case there is a partner. It is no longer a dialectic, but there is a rule 
of the game. Somewhere there must be a limit that constitutes the 
real in order for there to be theory. A point where things can stick, 
or from which they can take off. 

For Virilio there is definitely a trend toward extremes at work in the 
world today: the military class is swallowing up civilian society before 
disappearing itself in a suicidal race } 6 

Virilio’s calculation is to push the military to a kind of extreme 
absolute of power, which can only ultimately cause its own down- 
fall, place it before the judgment of God and absorb it into the 
society it destroys. Virilio carries out this calculation with such an 
identification or obsession that I can only credit him at times with 
a powerful sense of irony: the system devours its own principle of 
reality, inflates its own empty forms until it reaches an absolute and 
its own ironic destiny of reversal. I myself am not so interested in 
military hardware, but in software. It’s the form of his idea that 
strikes me as valid. 


104 / Forgot Baudrillard 



The state of emergency, the risk of nuclear extermination — you can 
dismiss all that ? 

Why, of course I think about it, but for me there is no fatal term. 
The nuclear threat is part of a “soft” mode of extermination, bit 
by bit, by deterrence, not at all an apocalyptic term. It is the sce- 
nario of deterrence that Paul Virilio shares with me, apparently, 
because he moves back and forth between the real term and the 
mythical term, which is mine. For me, it’s in the realm of the 
intellectual wager. If there were an absolute term of the nuclear 
apocalypse in the realm of the real, then at that point I would 
stop, I wouldn’t write anymore! God knows, if the metaphor really 
collapses into reality, I won’t have any more to do. That would 
not even be a question of resignation — it’s no longer possible to 
think at that point. 

The implosive side of the nuclear threat paralyzes everything. Its more 
than deterrence y it's political tetanus. 

Virilio is very interested in strategic vicissitudes; I don’t have the 
patience. Does the nuclear threat have a political term? Or does it 
make it disappear when the bomb hits the ground? It’s the same as 
for the media, I no longer attach any importance to it. Can there 
be a political management of a material that is “transpolitical?” I 
don’t see where it could come from. 

Lefs go back to your analysis of terrorism, which led you to discard the 
concept of the social. For a number of years we witnessed a trend 
toward extremes in the confrontation between the Red Army Faction 
and the German government. Now what was the final outcome ? A 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 1 05 



challenge; implosive forms of confrontation ? Not at all. Once the 
extremes were eliminated (the Baader-Meinhof “suicides” at 
Stammheim)y the possibility was established of bargaining, of striking a 
compromise. Politics regained the upper hand. \ and history with it. 

Terrorism can have a visible, a spectacular form. It is still part of the 
dramatic, practically, in the historical realm. So it can be succeeded 
by a kind of negotiable terror. The term “hostage,” as I have used 
it, would then qualify not only the visible dramas of the taking of 
hostages, but rather the hyperreality of everyday life which is situ- 
ated well beyond negotiable terror. Its the same as for deterrence. 
It’s not the actual terror of the orbiting bombs’ power of destruc- 
tion; Virilio says that very clearly. War having also become an 
impossible exchange, the hostage would only qualify a situation in 
which all exchange has become impossible. 

War is perhaps impossible: it continues nonetheless everywhere you look. 

People get killed, people die in war, of course. But it would still 
involve a kind of conspiracy to setup a trompe I’oeil decor, the way 
city planners make provisions for parks and greenery. The history 
of Europe is perhaps of that order — an effort to circumscribe 
Europe as a space of freedom, a political space, etc., to escape that 
panic of the insolubility, the impossibility of a declared war, of a 
war which can really signify itself. It is set up as a war space in an 
attempt to somehow alter, however minimally, the situation of 
generalized dissuasion, which is intolerable. The consequences are 
felt at some point with this blockage, this leukemia of political life 
which is unbearable for everybody, for the ruling classes as well as 
for those who are ruled. But at this point war certainly no longer 


106 Forqot Baudrillard 



has the same meaning, nor does art, or politics, or the hostage. 
Everything takes on another existence, with different stakes. 

You once tried, along with Virilio, to theorize the concept of the “trans- 
political?” Is the transpolitical situated on the other side of the political 
logic of consequences? Can that be a way of saving the political? 

The efforts to save it, that is what we are witnessing all around us. 
Those efforts are occupying the scene. The present, or recent, form 
of socialism in France — I call it “ecstatic” — in that sense it is trans- 
political. It proceeds from a model. Socialism realizes, hyperrealizes 
a model which no longer has any veracity or original passion. 

The transpolitical would be a negative notion then. Ids the same scene, 
but emptied out from within. 

In that sense, yes. That is part of the exterminating analysis. I’m 
not crazy about the term itself. Its almost too “figurative.” It sig- 
nifies that there could still be a beyond, and that we ought to go 
and take a look at what’s going on there. I prefer the formulation 
in terms of that point Canetti describes. We don’t know what 
happened after that. The traditional points of reference are no 
longer usable, but we don’t know what we are in. To demand a 
degree of truth is always problematical. Fascism was already 
something like that. It was a kind of potentialization. That is 
why it remains relatively inexplicable in political terms, such as 
capitalism or class struggle. 

There is a secret to fascism. 


Baud ri Hard / Lotringer / 1 07 



Yes. It derives its overwhelming necessity precisely from its being 
isolated and disconnected, as in the case of the catastrophe, but 
this necessity is far beyond any rational finality. The secret lies in 
that total autonomy of a narrative, of a form, a myth that can no 
longer be described in a logical, coherent and acceptable manner, 
but runs amok. Past a certain threshold of inertia, forms start 
snowballing, stampeding, and terror is unleashed as an empty 
form. There comes about a swept away effect, an effect that feeds 
on itself and can become the source of immense energies, as fas- 
cism did, unfortunately. When effects go faster than causes, they 
devour them. I could easily see the “speed-up” analyzed by Virilio 
from this angle, as an attempt to accelerate faster than linearity 
can. Movement goes somewhere, speed goes nowhere. May ’68 
was an illogical event, irreducible to simulation, one which had no 
status other than that of coming from someplace else — a kind of 
pure object or event. Its strangeness derives from a logic of our 
own system, but not from its history. It is a prodigious effect, and 
it is situated or. the other side of that crucial point Canetti 
describes and that I mentioned earlier. 

The cause of an event is always imagined after the fact. After that 
jolly May, we were treated to the curious spectacle of causes racing 
after effects. 

May ’68 is an event which it has been impossible to rationalize or 
exploit, from which nothing has been concluded. It remains inde- 
cipherable. It was the forerunner of nothing. 

There are no children of May. 


1 08 / Forget Baudrillard 



Perhaps a kind of “sccict” is involved here too. 


Tell me about secrets. 

There are fundamentally two kinds of secrets. The obscene form of 
the secret involves a saturation of the event with explanations. The 
other kind involves something which is not hidden and therefore 
cannot be expressed directly in words. It is this second kind of 
secret which makes the event somehow innocent. Now what can 
you do with that? Ordinarily, when things happen, you pick them 
up as best you can as a subject. In the case of May ’68, we have 
been forced to give all our subjective energy to the object. 

The event becomes a kind of slippery object that refers each subject 
back to his/her own fantasies without ever allowing itself to be 
touched. 

That event disappeared without leaving a trace other than this 
secondary and parodic effect, this second or third-hand product 
manufactured to occupy a political scene that has been utterly 
absorbed and destroyed: French socialism. 

The socialists error is to have occupied the vacuum and to have 
allowed themselves to be sucked into the black hole of politics. 

There are two ways of seeing this. You can say there used to be a 
political sphere and there isn’t anymore, following a Foucauldian 
genealogy. That was how Foucault talked about man. There is no 
longer a scene of politics the way it was organized around the his- 
tory of power relations, production, classes. Power is no longer an 


Baudriiiard / Lotringer / 1 09 



objective, loca table process. This is what I say is lost, if we can 
speak of an end of something. We are elsewhere. If, on the con- 
trary, the political sphere consists in knowing how to play on an 
event or a thing on the basis of its objective or conscious end — 
but in order to ward it off — then power, in political terms, 
becomes a kind of challenge. 

A challenge from the powers that be not to exercise power? 

I wonder, in fact, if true power, the power that deepens the mean- 
ing of politics, is not the one that pulls back from itself, that plays 
out its own death, without even willing it consciously. The secret 
of power is that it can no longer be occupied, no longer be taken. 
When “power” is confused with the “power structure,” you know it 
is no longer power. It becomes extremely vulnerable. 

Could we not conceive this phenomenon in a more active fashion? The 
political as the art of not occupying a position yourself but creating a 
void for others to rush into it. 

The political sphere must keep secret the rule of the game that, in 
reality, power doesn’t exist. Its strategy is, in fact, always creating a 
space of optical illusion, maintaining itself in total ambiguity, total 
duplicity in order to throw the others into this space. This is 
Machiavelli’s strategy. 

It is also the story of Sophie Calle , 17 

Right. For no particular reason, as you know, she followed a 
stranger in the street; she became his shadow and thus, in a certain 


110/ Forget Baudrillard 



sense, erased his traces, acted as his destiny. Creating a void, she 
asked the other to fill it. She herself is nothing. She has no desire 
of her own in all this. She doesn’t want to go anywhere, even 
though she follows him all the way to Venice. She doesn’t want to 
find out what he is or to know his life. She is the proof that, 
although he thought he was going somewhere, in fact he is going 
nowhere. Where he supposedly is, there’s no one. We could envi- 
sion this story in terms of Balthazar Gracian. Is God’s strategy 
really to lead man to his own ends, in other words to move man 
closer to the image of God according to a progressive-evolutionary 
process? God isn’t so dumb, Gracian says. Nowhere does it say that 
man wants to arrive at his own end, which would be the idea of 
God in its canonical form. God’s strategy is much more subtle, 
which no doubt corresponds to man’s desire not to give a shit about 
his own end. God’s strategy — that of all the Jesuit manuals that 
were incredibly widespread in the seventeenth century — is to keep 
man in an eternal suspense. And that is in the order of politics, 
which reveals God as being fairly malicious, perverse, given man’s 
faculty to erect almost anything as a finality. Any possible illusion 
to avoid the Last Judgment, which is truly Hell. In fact, politics is 
always in a contrary, twisted, or simply “seductive” relation to its 
own ends. God is much more interested in the game, in the possi- 
bility of playing with ends, even using means. Furthermore, this 
proposition — the end and the means — has always favored the ends 
at the expense of the means. Since the means are immoral, the ends 
must be moral. But we could very well turn the proposition 
around, and this is precisely what the Jesuits do: play with the 
means, whatever, for the ends cannot be found anymore. For the 
Jesuits, and this is their basic proposition, it is impossible to estab- 
lish a proof of God’s existence. So all right, God exists, the grace of 


Baudrillard / Lotringer /111 



God exists, but it has nothing to do with us because what were 
dealing with is a strategic worldliness. And with this you can play. 
There are only means. 

In Simulations, what especially interested me, in fact, was the possi- 
bility of effecting this kind of diversion. I was struck by the fact that the 
Italians — in particular certain figures oftheAutonomia movement 18 — 
when confronted with an emergency situation, found in certain of your 
propositions, even if they were disenchanted ones, instruments that they 
immediately tried to use politically. Instead of respecting your own ends 
(or their absence as ends...), they took certain of your concepts as floating 
theoretical tools capable of being reinvested in particular situations. 
In short, they diverted your own diversion. I admit that I like this 
practical perversion of your own theoretical perversion. 

That indeed seems to me to be the situation in Italy. Everyone 
seems to be party to prolonging a situation that isn’t exactly polit- 
ical — in any case, no one can pull the strings anymore. The 
situation is seductive because of that kind of indecisiveness with 
which everyone plays without necessarily being aware of it. I like 
that Italian ability to turn around, turn away an objective state that 
would otherwise be catastrophic: the State could have disappeared 
a long time ago, along with politics. 

In fact, the State has never existed there. . . 

I think that every other country is in the same situation, despite 
appearances to the contrary. They are all in a situation of political 
simulation, but on the sly. Italy, on the other hand, seems to be 
exercising the simulacrum as such, seduction as such. 


112/ Forget Baudrillard 



The simulacrum supports politics y instead of wiping it out. 

The Italians have a long tradition of all this with the Jesuits and the 
Church — in the way Nietzsche meant. For them, the end is always 
imminent, but at the same time there is a possibility of almost 
joyful resurrection with each event, and that is phenomenal. We 
certainly couldn’t say the same of Poland... Who are ideologically 
active cannot help fantasizing about a world that would make more 
sense, or that would return to sense. And so you get to terrorism, 
which invokes an enormous fantasy of a political order, of the 
State, the better to murder it, to massacre it. But what game is 
terrorism playing? Terrorism makes no more sense than the State 
does. They are accomplices in a circular set up. 

In Germany as in Italy ( neither country has ever been unified or cen- 
tralized)y terrorism helps the State appear. 

It’s the role of a partner more than of an adversary. It’s always like 
that: events are played out on a conscious level of adversity, of war, 
of irreconcilable, incompatible ideologies, but in reality what’s 
happening underneath it all? Who would dream that the situation can 
become so totally terroristic that in fact it joins its other extreme? 
I don’t see how all this can end. It is not objectively representable. 

You see in the terrorist act y as in nuclear confrontation between the 
Great Powers (which is y in fact y State terrorism) y not an explosive 
phenomenon y but the point at which the social implodes. But what is 
“the social?” You hypostatize a complex reality in an abstraction , only 
to immediately send the abstraction back to the domain of unreality 
and proclaim its end. Isnt that a bit too easy? 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 113 



But I take the social as already hypostatized. From hypostasis to 
ecstasy! 

If the social doesnt exist , if it has never existed outside of the theoreti- 
cal imagination, then it cant implode. 

All right, that’s entirely plausible. And yet you could also state the 
hypothesis that at a given moment the social did exist, but not at 
all as a representation of society, nor in a positive sense, but rather 
as a challenge to the reality of things, as a virulent myth. This is 
how Georges Bataille saw sociology: as a challenge to the very 
nature of the social and to society. History also existed in that 
sense. But then, that’s not really existence, because when history 
begins to exist, very quickly there’s nothing left but to treat it as an 
instance of jurisdiction and meaning. I have never resolved that 
ambiguity between being and existence; I believe it’s insoluble. 


114/ Forget Baudrillard 



5 


The Challenge to the Real □ A Geoseismic View of Things □ 
Theory as Event □ The Art of Disappearance □ The Vortex of 
Implosion □ Seduction □ The Malice of the Social □ The Slipper- 
iness of Forms □ The Evil Genius of Theory □ Extermination □ 
Metaphysics and Metatheory □ “Forgetting” Theory □ Myth and 
Serials □ The Media’s Anti-Destiny 


Sylvere Lotringer: For Nietzsche , the philosopher must decipher 
action. He must actively evaluate the forces confronting each other in 
society. You conceive of the social as the depletion of an empty form. 
What role, then, do you attribute to theory? Must it be a virulent myth, 
as it is for Bataille ? But if the social has become weightless, what does 
myth attack ? And for what cause ? 

Jean Baudrillard: I admit, that question of theory troubles me. 
Where is theory situated today? Is it completely satellized? Is it 
wandering in realms which no longer have anything to do with real 
facts? What is analysis? As long as you consider that there is a real 
world, then by the same token there is a possible position for theory. 
Let us say a dialectical position, for the sake of argument. Theory 


115 



and reality can still be exchanged at some point and that is ide- 
ality. There is after all a point of contact between the two. And 
then you can transform the world, and theory does transform the 
world. That is not at all my position anymore. Moreover, it never 
was. But I have never succeeded in formulating it. In my opinion, 
theory is simply a challenge to the real. A challenge to the world to 
exist. Very often a challenge to God to exist. But there is more than 
theory. In the beginning, religion, in its former heretical phase, 
was always a negation — at times a violent one — of the real world, 
and this is what gave it strength. After that, religion became a 
process of reconciliation rather than a pleasure or reality princi- 
ple. This can hold true for theory as well: a theory can attempt to 
reconcile the real with theory itself. And then there is a principle 
of antagonism — an absolutely irreconcilable, almost Manichaean 
antagonism. You maintain a position of challenge, which is differ- 
ent from unreality. 

Stilly isrit that exactly what you do: make stakes unreal by pushing 
them to the limit ? 

But I hold no position on reality. Reality remains an unshakeable 
postulate toward which you can maintain a relation either of adver- 
sity or of reconciliation. The real — all things considered, perhaps it 
exists — no, it doesn’t exist — is the insurmountable limit of theory. 
The real is not an objective status of things, it is the point at which 
theory can do nothing. That does not necessarily make of theory a 
failure. The real is actually a challenge to the theoretical edifice. But 
in my opinion theory can have no status other than that of chal- 
lenging the real. At that point, theory is no longer theory, it is the 
event itself. There is no “reality” with respect to which theory could 


116 / Forget Baudrillard 



become dissident or heretical, pursuing its fate other than in the 
objectivity of things. Rather, its the objectivity of things we must 
question. What is this objectivity? In the so-called “real world,” 

don’t things always happen that way? By a divergence, a trajectory, 

* 

a curve which is not at all the linear curve of evolution? We could 
perhaps develop a model of drifting plates, to speak in seismic 
terms, in the theory of catastrophes. The seismic is our form of the 
slipping and sliding of the referential. The end of the infrastruc- 
ture. Nothing remains but shifting movements that provoke very 
powerful raw events. We no longer take events as revolutions or 
effects of the superstructure, but as underground effects of skid- 
ding, fractal zones in which things happen. Between the plates, 
continents do not quite fit together, they slip under and over each 
other. There is no more system of reference to tell us what hap- 
pened to the geography of things. We can only take a geoseismic 
view. Perhaps this is also true in the construction of a society, a 
mentality, a value-system. Things no longer meet head-on; they 
slip past one another. Everyone claims to “be in reality.” But the 
test of reality is not decisive. Nothing happens in the real. 

Is anything happening in the theory then ? 

Theory dismantles the reality principle; it’s not at all a means of 
objectivizing things in order to transform them. No, I don’t believe 
that. At a certain point I felt — if we suppose that the real, and social 
practices, are indeed there — that I was launched on a trajectory that 
was increasingly diverging, becoming asymptotic. It would be an 
error to constantly try to catch hold of that zig-zagging line of real- 
ity. The only thing you can do is let it run all the way to the end. At 
that point, they can raise any objection they like about the relation 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 1 1 7 



to reality: we are in a totally arbitrary situation, but there is an unde- 
niable internal necessity. From that point on, theory maintains 
absolutely no relation with anything at all; it becomes an event in 
and of itself. We can no longer fix the way things are going. 

I wonder if there isn't a kind of “skidding' endemic to theory. When 
theory manages to complete itself following its internal logic , that's 
when it disappears. Its accomplishment is its abolition. 

Yes, I really believe that’s true. Can theory (I’m speaking here about 
what Ive done) produce, not a model, but a utopian, metaphorical 
representation of an event, even as its entire cyclical trajectory is 
being accomplished, completed? I think there is a destiny of the- 
ory. There is a curve we cant escape. You know that my way is to 
make ideas appear, but as soon as they appear I immediately try to 
make them disappear. That’s what the game has always consisted 
of. Strictly speaking, nothing remains but a sense of dizziness, with 
which you can’t do anything. 

Isn't that a little bit suicidal? 

It’s suicidal, but in a good way. If this game didn’t exist, there 
would be no pleasure in writing, or in theorizing. 

Theory ; or the pleasure of disappearing... 

There is an art of disappearing, a way of modulating it and making 
it into a state of grace. This is what I’m trying to master in theory. 

It's the end of theory, at least in Canetti's sense. 


118/ Forget Baudrillard 



Yes, in that sense, 


Theory implodes. 

Its possible that theory will implode, that it will absorb its own 
meaning, that it will end up at best mastering its disappearance. 
But it doesn’t happen like that. We must manage to choke back the 
meanings we produce — which always tend to be produced. If a the- 
ory — or a poem, or any other kind of writing (it’s not endemic to 
theory) — indeed manages to implode, to constitute a concentric 
vortex of implosion, then there are no other effects of meaning. 
Theory has an immediate effect — a very material one as well — of 
being a void. It’s not so easy to create a void. And besides, there’s 
catastrophe all around it. I don’t see how theory and reality can go 
together. Can we implode in the real with charm? Without going 
all the way to suicide, we continually play on the process of disap- 
pearance in our relations to others. Not by making ourselves scarce, 
but by challenging the other to make us reappear. That’s what 
seduction is, in the good sense. Not a process of expansion and 
conquest, but the implosive process of the game. 

You theorize the way others go to a casino. Ids your gambling side; you 
swoop down on a theoretical object — Foucault y for example — with a 
cold passion and you totally disconnect it from its own thrust. . . 

There has to be some pleasure at stake, of course, which is neither 
the pleasure of prophecy nor, I think, of annihilation (destruction 
for destruction’s sake). A perverse pleasure, in short. Theory must 
be played the way we said gambling was before. 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 1 1 9 



The secret of gambling is that money doesn't exist. Does theory have a 
secret too? 

The secret of theory is that truth doesn’t exist. You can’t confront it 
in any way. The only thing you can do is play with some kind of 
provocative logic. Truth constitutes a space that can no longer be 
occupied. The whole strategy is, indeed, not to occupy it, but to 
work around it so that others come to occupy it. It means creating 
a void so that others will fall into it. 

If theory can no longer occupy anything, can it at least constitute a 
challenge to the system to bring about its own annihilation ? 

I have my doubts about its capacities in that respect. Those in 
power manage it much better than we could. The French socialists 
were wiped out because they couldn’t see the malice of the social, 
which the Jesuits know so well. They should have had a more 
sporting idea of struggle: the slipperiness of forms. By trying to 
establish stability the socialists lost every time. They were always 
completely out of step with their system of cultural projection. The 
ground they fell on was quicksand. So what else could they do? 
What position can theory hold when it comes to thinking up 
events of that order? In concrete terms, I can’t see any. Except per- 
haps in the twisting in which systems, in the simulated references 
they latch onto (the masses, the media), end up turning on them- 
selves without intending to, and skidding. To me this seems pure 
genius, in the evil sense. It’s a hypothesis, but a rather effective one. 

Theory can anticipate or hasten the catastrophic aspect of things. 


1 20 / Forget Baudrillard 



We could say that theory is ahead of the state of things, that it 
moves too fast and thus is in a position of destiny with respect to 
what could happen. In reality, things happen in such a way that 
they are always absolutely ahead of us, as Rilke said. We’re always 
late, and therefore they are always unpredictable. No matter how, 
things are always much further along than theory simply by 
virtue of the fact that the use of discourse is in the domain of 
metaphor. We can’t escape it. In language we are condemned to 
using ambiguous extrapolations. If we claim a truth, we push 
effects of meaning to the extreme within a model. All that theory 
can do is be rigorous enough to cut itself off from any system of 
reference, so that it will at least be current, on the scale of what it 
wishes to describe. 

You’ve cut yourself off from every system of refer ence y but not from 
refer entiality. What I see you describing is not a challenge to the real, 
but a challenge internal to theory You don’t criticize the genealogical 
attitude or the libidinal position , you send them spinning away like 
tops. You wholly embrace the movement that animates them , you 
amplify their concepts to the maximum , pulling them into the vortex 
of your own dizziness. You draw them into an endless spiral which y 
like the treatment of myths by Levi-Strauss y leads them bit by bit to 
their own exhaustion. 

That’s right. Thus theory is exterminated. It no longer has any 
term, literally. You can’t find an end for it anymore. That’s one 
mode of disappearance. 

By pushing theory to its limit the way you do y you are hyper-realizing 
it. You take away from theory its substance y to exhaust it y to extenuate 


Baudrillard / Lotringer / 121 



it in its form , and then you forget it” as a body in suspension might 
be left behind. You don't even simulate the real, you play God's advo- 
cate, the evil genius of theory. More Foucauldian than Foucault, you 
evaporate his microphysics; more schizo than Deleuze and Guattari, 
you straddle their fluxes, denying them any resting point. You are not 
the metaphysician you would like people to take you for; you are a 
metatheoretician. A simulator of theory. No wonder theoreticians 
accuse you of being an agent provocateur. You aren't theoretical, you are 
'worse. " You put theory into a state of grace into which you dare the 
world to follow you. 

Theory is simulation. At least that is the usage of it I have. Both 
simulation and challenge. It isn’t deliberate. It started that way, 
that’s all. I don’t want to give it a general form. 

You catch concepts in their own trap — that is, in yours — abolishing 
every certainty by dint of fidelity. That is the position of humor, which 
can be sad, as well as tongue-in-cheek. You adopt the imperceptible 
insolence of the servant challenging his master (his intellectual masters) 
to take him seriously. Calling your bluff would mean getting entangled 
in your game. But to evade your challenge still amounts to lending you 
a hand. You forget” those whom you vampirize, but you never allow 
yourself to be forgotten. You are like the media, about which one can 
say nothing without oneself becoming implicated in it. What allows 
you to understand it so well, is that you are included in it. You are both 
playing the same game. You both use the same strategy. You don't speak 
about the media, the media speaks through you. As soon as you turn on 
your theoretical screen, the great myths of history are turned into a soap 
opera, or into "serials. You make them share the fate of that TV pro- 
gram, "Holocaust, ” which you analyzed so well. 19 


1 22 / Forget Baudrillard 



I don’t deny history. It’s an immense toy. 


Yes, if you remain glued to the screen, or fascinated by the giddiness of 
commutations. 

Our anti-destiny is the media universe. And I don’t see how to 
make this mental leap which would make it possible to reach the 
fractal or fatal zones where things would really be happening. 
Collectively we are behind the radio-active screen of information. 
It is no more possible to go behind that curtain than it is to leap 
over your own shadow. 

You are one of the few thinkers to confront the Gorgon of the media 
from within, to extract from it a vision — at the risk of being paralyzed. 
Yet you, too, need an adversary to succumb to your own fascination. 
And that partner cant be the media since you are yourself behind the 
screen; nor can it be reality, which you have left far behind. That part- 
ner is theory. Cultivating paradox in order to revulse theory, to upset 
its vision, to bring it to a crisis by playing and displaying the card of 
its own seriousness. That, I believe, is what your pleasure is, the only 
one maybe, or the only socializable one, at any rate a pleasure that is 
as strong as fascination. 

I admit that I greatly enjoy provoking that revulsion. But right 
away people ask, “What can you do with that?” It relies after all on 
an extraordinary deception — in the literal sense of the term. There 
is nothing to be had from it. 


Paris — Rome, 1984-85 


BaudrSliard / Lotringer / 1 23 



Notes 


1. Elias Canetti, The Human Province , tr. Joachim Neugroschel. New York, Seabury 
Press, (1972) 1978. 

2. Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production, tr. Mark Poster. New York, Telos, 1975. 

3. Jean Baudrillard, Simulations , tr. Paul Foss, Paul Patton and Philip Beitchman. 
New York: Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series, 1983. 

4. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus , tr. Robert Flurley, Mark 
Seem, Ffelen Lane, New York, Viking (1972) 1977. 

5. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, tr. Brian Masummi, 
Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press (1980) 1987. 

6. Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, tr. Mark Polizzotti, New York, Semiotext(e), 
(1977), 1986. 

7. Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, tr. Robert Flurley. New York, Zone 
Books, (1967) 1991. 

8. Jean Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. New York: Semiotext(e) 
Foreign Agents Series, 1983). 

9. Ibid. “The End of the Social” comprises the second part. 

10. Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death, London, Sage, 1993. 

11. Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, New York: Vintage, 1972. 



12. Gilles Dclcuzc, Logic of Sense, tr. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, New York, 
Columbia University Press, (1969), 1990. 

13. Jean Baudrillard, Seduction , tr. Brian Singer, New York, St. Martin's Press, 
(1979) 1990. 

14. Loving Boys, (New York: Semiotext(e), 1980). 

15. Paul Virillio, Aesthetics of Disappearance, tr. Philip Beitchman, New York, 
Semiotexte, (1980) 1991. 

16. Paul Virilio/Sylvere Lotringer, Pure War, (New York: Semiotext(e) Foreign 
Agents Series, 1983). 

17. Sophie Calle, Follow Me, tr. Dany Barash and Danny Hatfield , Seattle, Bay 
Press, (1983) 1988. 

18. Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, (New York: Semiotext(e) 1980). 

19. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation , tr. Sheila Faria Galser, Ann 
Arbor, University of Michigan Press, (1981) 1994. 


125 



FORGET 

FOUCAULT 


Jean Baudrillard 



Sylvere Lotringer 



Foucault’s discourse is a mirror of the powers he 
describes. Its strength and its seduction lie there, 
and not in its ‘truth’ index. But what if Foucault 
spoke to us so well of sexuality only because its 
form, like that of power, is disappearing? In fact the 
entire analysis of power needs to be reconsidered. 
We are at the point where no one exercises power 
or wants to challenge it any longer. And there has 
never truly been a sexuality. 


In 1976, Jean Baudrillard sent this essay to the French magazine Critique, 
where Michel Foucault was an editor. Though invited to reply, Foucault 
remained silent. Oublier Foucault (1977) made Baudrillard instantly infa- 
mous in France. Using the recently published History of Sexuality as the 
occasion, Baudrillard questions the foundations of Foucault’s entire oeuvre. 
First published in 1987 in America, this devastating confrontation is com- 
plemented by a long dialogue with Sylvere Lotringer, “Forget Baudrillard,” 
which clarifies some of the issues raised by Baudrillard’s pamphlet and 
retraces the trajectory of his ideas. There is no better introduction to 
Baudrillard’s polemical approach to culture than Forget Foucault, where 
Baudrillard dares his formidable adversary to meet the challenge of his 
own thought. 


Internationally renowned as a 21st-century philosopher, reporter and provo- 
cateur, Jean Baudrillard has upset all existing theories of contemporary 
society with scathing humor and clinical precision. His major books in 
English are Simulations, Fatal Strategies, Impossible Exchange and The 
Intelligence of Evil.